The Ascension of Jesus ChristRelated Media
Seeing the Lord High and Exalted
I would like to introduce this study on the ascension of Christ with a brief look at Isaiah 6. This passage gives us a vision of the incomparable majesty of God, and in the process sets forth a number of contrasts between:
- The human and the divine
- The temporal and the eternal
- The earthly and the heavenly
Isaiah 6:1-13 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people, And the land is utterly desolate, 12 “The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”
Isaiah’s vision, with its contrasts, is both timely and vital for believers of any age and time--but especially in times like these when our nation is literally on the skids spiritually, morally, and politically. The passage consists of REVELATION from God followed by a RESPONSE with specific RESULTS in the life of Isaiah.
God’s revelation always demands a response consistent with His revelation. Isaiah 6 contains a:
- VISION--God’s REVELATION of Himself to Isaiah,
- VERDICT--Isaiah’s RESPONSE by way of a confession of his and his people’s sinfulness, and
- VOCATION--the RESULT, Isaiah’s commissioning and commitment of His life to the purpose of God.
In verse 1 the Hebrew text literally reads, “in the death year of King Uzziah.” This is emphatic and shortened for emphasis and effect. We would normally expect something like, “and it came to pass” as in Isaiah 7:1. The important point is that this vision of the heavenly king, the sovereign of the universe, came in the same year of this earthly king’s death.
This is important to note because it dramatically ties the vision to a critical moment in the spiritual and political history of the nation. Under King Uzziah Judah had experienced prosperous times. This King had extended the country’s boundaries to is ancient limits. Commerce and agriculture flourished, and the two nations, (Judah and Israel) were at peace. But more importantly, King Uzziah had established spiritual renewal. He had removed much of the idolatry and established spiritual reforms. He had sought to bring the people back to the Word of God.
But without King Uzziah’s leadership (which sought to bring the people back to God and His Word) these conditions would fast erode for there were already signs of spiritual lethargy and mere externalism in their religious life. Judah’s prosperity had degenerated into softness, luxurious living, and complacency toward God and their calling as a priesthood nation. Worship had been maintained with external regularity and religious precision--but they were keeping their hearts far from God. So, with King Uzziah’s death, apostasy could very well increase fast . As Isaiah considered the death of Uzziah, he must have thought that things could really go to the dogs.
Moreover, Assyria, a cruel, ruthless, and hungry tyrant, was increasing in power like a huge beast ready to pounce on all the nations of Palestine. So, it was a critical time, a time that not only involved the death of a godly king, but a time that foresaw the death of a nation as it turned not only away from the Lord but to the idolatrous influences from the East.
As we think about our own country today and see what is happening on every front, it is frightening, discouraging, and frustrating. We see the influx of the New Age movement and the tremendous rise of all the cults; the unisex issue; the abortion problem; the drug problem; the gay movement that has become politically powerful; the multi-billion dollar rock music industry with its blatant attacks on Jesus Christ and its emphasis on rebellion, violence, hedonism, and sex. We see the violence in our streets, especially on the rise among our young teens; the corruption in business and politics; an almost complete loss of moral values; the divorce rate and the break up of the home including abuse of women and children; and the failure of the church to make a significant difference.
But in the midst of the problems of Isaiah’s day, he was given a vision, one that we need perhaps more than Isaiah did. So note what we read next.
“I saw the Lord sitting . . .” Literally the text reads, “I saw also . . .” or “and then I saw the Lord.” In other words, against the backdrop of the problems of his day, Isaiah also saw the LORD. He saw the Lord “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted” or “seated on a throne, high and exalted” (NIV). In other words, regardless of what was happening in the nation and on this earth, God was on the throne carrying out His purposes.
Psalm 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all. (NASB)
This revelation of the Lord turns our attention from the HUMAN and the EARTHLY to the DIVINE and the HEAVENLY--from the CHAOTIC and DEGENERATE to the PEACEFUL and HOLY. This passage gives us heaven’s perspective and the effect this should have on us as the people of God whom God has left here to represent Him. Let us gaze into heaven through the lens of Scripture to see our ascended and seated Lord, high and lifted up. And also, let us begin to see (1) what this means to us by way of blessings and privileges and (2) what effect this should have on us as the people of God.
In view of the phrase, “lofty and exalted” in Isaiah 6:1, let’s note the same phrase in Isaiah 52:13.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy of the suffering Servant of the Lord who must die for our sin, but at the very beginning of this passage, it anticipates His victory and exaltation or ascension.
The ascension of the Savior is a very important event which accomplished some wonderful and awesome things in the plan of God.
On Easter we commemorate the resurrection of Christ--one of the four greatest events in human history since the creation of man. The others include:
1. The first great event, and one anticipated since the fall of man, is the incarnation--the moment in time when God descended to earth in the person of His Son to become true, yet sinless humanity.
2. The second great event is the cross when the God-Man Savior died for our sins--the innocent bearing the penalty of the guilty.
3. The third great event is the resurrection, when Jesus Christ was raised from death by the glory of the Father.
4. “In our culture, as in most cultures around the world, the ultimate symbol of foreboding and despair is the grave . . . Yet the Bible shows us a grave--and empty grave--which is the picture of ultimate hope” (Donald K. Campbell, Seminary Easter Card, 1988).
But why was Christ raised from the grave? (1) To prove who He was--the eternal Son of God, and (2) to confirm the value of His death. But there is another important reason for the resurrection, (3) that Jesus Christ might, as the glorified and victorious Savior, ascend into the very presence of God, thus, opening the way for others to follow.
Many studies of the life of Christ trace His life and ministry beginning at Bethlehem and ending with the ascension. But Christ’s life existed from all eternity and continues into the eternal future. The ascension is the connecting link, the link between the past ministry of Christ and His future ministry.
“The ascension is not only a great FACT of the New Testament, but a greater FACTOR in the life of Christ and Christians, and no complete view of Jesus Christ is possible unless the ascension and its consequences are included” (ISBE, Griffith Thomas, Vol. 1, p. 263).
When you think of Christ, how do you think of Him? As the babe lying in the manger? Do you think of Him in terms of His ministry on earth and His mighty words and works? Or perhaps you think of Him as the one who died and rose again. There are many ways we may (and should) think about Jesus Christ and that we do so is tremendously important to the issues of life . . . assuming we come up with the right verdict.
In view of the Easter season and in view of the moral decay of our nation, I’d like to invite you to think especially of Jesus Christ as one who ascended into heaven. We want to be able to answer our Lord’s very provocative question, “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?” In other words, what does the ascension mean to us? What differences should it make in our belief and behavior?
We need to answer this question because it is tremendously important (1) to the impact of Christ on our daily lives, (2) to our courage and the enjoyment of our salvation in Christ, and (3) for our effectiveness in the mission of the Great Commission to which Christ has called each of us.
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT, LIKE ISAIAH, WE SEE JESUS EXALTED OR HIGH AND LIFTED UP REGARDLESS OF WHAT IS HAPPENING ON EARTH.
The ascension, as one of the important truths of the Bible, occupies a large portion in the Word of God. Our study will demonstrate just why this is so, but let’s look at two passages that demonstrate our need to know and personally relate our lives to Jesus Christ--not only as the one who died and rose from the grave, but also as the ascended Lord.
John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Paul is saying that we know him no longer as just a man, indeed He is the God-Man, but he is also saying that we know Him no longer as the one who came to earth in the flesh. We must know Him now as the ascended, exalted, glorified Savior.
By the word “ascension” we mean the removal of Jesus Christ from this earth into a different place and sphere which we call heaven. A place seen by Isaiah as high and exalted, a place of sovereign control and authority. It is a removal, a change of position and locale which is of the utmost importance both to God and to man.
The ascension completes the resurrection. Without the resurrection Christ’s death would be meaningless as far as the great issues of life are concerned. And without the ascension, the resurrection would also be incomplete and meaningless. We would have a resurrected person, but not one who was now at God’s right hand in the place of authority.
Please note the progression:
- First there is Christ’s descent to earth--God becoming man, the incarnation.
- This is followed by Christ’s death and resurrection as the God-Man Savior.
- But for God’s purposes to be fulfilled and our need supplied, there must also be Christ’s ascent into heaven as the God-Man Savior and King of His people.
“The ascension is the important link between His work on earth and His work in heaven which begins with the ascension” (Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, p. 224).
It is important to remember that the New Testament was written by men who were thoroughly convinced that Jesus was at the right hand of the Father, and that through the ministry of the Holy Spirit they were in union with this ascended Lord and were, by His commission and through His ascended authority and power, left here to continue the work which He began.
In relation to the ascension, the Lord said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me.” The ascension means the Lord’s physical removal from His people on earth and from this present state of affairs, “but the spiritual value of the Ascension lies not in Christ’s physical remoteness, but in His spiritual nearness. He is free from earthly limitations, and His life above is the promise and guarantee” (Thomas, p. 265) not only life and life eternal, but it is also the proof of our purpose and the promise of capacity for ministry as His people.
Jesus said, “Because I live you shall live also.” But in the total context of the New Testament, this refers not only to the resurrection but to His continued life as the ascended and seated Lord of the church and the universe.
The Christ of the Gospels is the Christ of the past, the eternal past and the historic past, “but the full New Testament picture of Christ is that of a living Christ , the Christ of heaven, the Christ of experience, the Christ of the present and the future” (Griffith Thomas, p. 263).
We must not miss the connection between Isaiah’s VISION and his VOCATION. It had the right impact on the prophet’s life. The Gospel ends with the promise of Christ’s authority as the ascended Lord, the gift of the Spirit, and the Great Commission (God’s calling on our lives). It did not end with the promise of peace and prosperity, which is so often the emphasis in our culture. It ended with the fact and picture of an ascended, sovereign LORD who has commissioned us to live for Him.
If we are to endure and carry on in this sin-ridden world, running the race God has laid out before us, we need to see Jesus Christ. We must fix our gaze on Him, but how are we to do that?
The Record of the Ascension:
Its Confirmation and Significance
Prophets Anticipated the Ascension
It is important to realize the ascension of Christ has always been a part of the overall plan of God. The idea of the ascension was not some last minute idea thought up by hapless and hopeless disciples.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted.
Belief in the ascension and its accomplishments has it source in the expectations and promises of Old Testament prophecy.
Psalm 16:8-11 I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. 10 For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. 11 Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever. (emphasis mine)
This prophecy traces Christ from the cross through resurrection back into His glory at God’s right hand through the ascension (cf. Acts 2:24-36).
Psalm 110:1-5 A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” . . .. 5 The Lord is at Thy right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
Matthew 22:41-44 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet”’?
Christ used this Old Testament passage which anticipated the ascension of David’s son to God’s right hand to demonstrate just who Messiah was and what this should mean to mankind. Messiah would be David’s son but also David’s Lord--one who shared God’s throne as God Himself. The ascension is alluded to in the words “at my right hand.” This shows us an understanding of what the ascension means and teaches us about Jesus Christ is vital for right thinking and response to the person of Christ. (Cf. Psalm 68:18; Eph. 4:8ff; Isa 52:13).
The Lord’s ascension was anticipated in the Old Testament and viewed as essential to a proper understanding of just who Messiah is and of His ministry to men.
Christ Anticipated the Ascension
The ascension was no surprise to the Lord. From the very beginning of His ministry, the Lord was not only aware that He had come to die for our sin, but anticipated both the resurrection and the ascension. Both were foretold in the Old Testament and Christ knew that like His death, the resurrection and ascension were essential for fulfilling God’s purposes and solving man’s dilemma. There must be both the DESCENT from heaven and the ASCENT back into heaven.
There are some fifteen or more passages where the Lord speaks of the ascension or alludes to it in one way or another. That is not without significance. In each of the passages the Lord used the ascension much like the fact of the resurrection. He used it to authenticate His person and to give reasons for what He could and would do for man, and why the person and work of Christ demands a verdict--the verdict of faith and commitment.
The ascension is a vital link in the entire chain of events, all of which are essential. It is the link between His past finished work and His present and future work. It demonstrates Jesus Christ to be the final solution for man’s need of prophet, priest, and king (Cf. John 3:13; John 6:62; John 13:1; John 14:1-2; Luke 20:41-44).
New Testament Believers Witnessed the Ascension
The Time of the Ascension
There are some who contend that Christ ascended into heaven prior to the event recorded in Acts 1. A number of expositors teach that Christ ascended to heaven on the day of His resurrection based on the implications of John 20:17 and Hebrews 9:6-20. Let me suggest several reasons why this is unlikely:
(1) In Hebrews 9:11-12 the statement, “through His own blood” (or in the KJV, “with His blood”) has been taken to mean Christ took His actual blood into heaven. They say in John 20:17, Christ was telling Mary not to touch Him because this had not yet been done. But the Greek text here uses a construction which means “through the agency of” or “by means of.” It simply means that Christ was able to enter heaven once and for all by means of (or through) His death on the cross.
(2) The Lord did not actually say in John 20:17 He would ascend immediately, or at a time prior to the record in Luke 24 and Acts 1. “I ascend” is a prediction and illustrates what grammarians call a “futuristic use of the present tense.” This is a well established use in the New Testament (cf. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light of Historical Research, Broadman Press, p. 880).
(3) The only biblical record we have of His ascension is the one recorded 40 days after the resurrection (Acts 1:9-11; Luke 24:50-53). Many able scholars have concluded that it is improbable that Christ ascended in a formal way to heaven until the event of Acts 1.
But that He did ascend and that we have the record is enormously instructive.
This record is a confirmation of the fact of the ascension by those who had access to this information and who very carefully examined the facts (Luke 1:3) And the record of the ascension is such that it gives us important information about its nature and meaning.
The Nature of the Ascension
For the purposes of our study, we are going to focus our attention on the account in Acts 1:6-11.
Acts 1:6-11 And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. “ 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; 11 and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
First, we want to note the context in which the ascension occurs. This passage shows us there was concern and longing for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, and so there was the question about when. This would mean the reign of righteousness with Jesus Christ on the throne, and an end to the times of the Gentiles and the turmoil we now know in the world.
The Lord tells the disciples this was all in the Father’s sovereign plan and timing (vs. 7). In the meantime, they had the responsibility of representing the Lord to the world, a responsibility for which they would be adequately supplied by the power of the Holy Spirit once He had come to indwell the church, the body of Christ (vs. 8).
Christ’s ascension is immediately followed by the promise of the Holy Spirit and instructions regarding the purpose and mission of the church. The ascension is designed to provide an incentive to faith, courage, and a motivation to ministry.
Immediately after this commission in verse 8, the ascension occurred. The Lord was lifted up by a cloud of glory out of their sight and taken into heaven. He was ascending to the right hand of the Father from whence He would send the Holy Spirit to empower them for ministry. There also He would sit to represent them providing access into God’s presence.
Let’s note the words used for Christ’s departure and what they teach us.
Verse 9a tells us “He was lifted up.” This is the passive form of the Greek epairo and means “to lift up” as in the hoisting of a sail (Acts 27:40). This stresses that the ascension is upward and shows the Father was taking His Son up into heaven. The ascension was an act of exaltation and an affirmation of Christ’s person.
Verse 9b tells us “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” The Greek word “received” is hupolambano, “to take or bear up by supporting from beneath.” Literally the cloud “took under him.” He appeared to be supported by the cloud.
It appears that once Christ was in the atmospheric heaven, He was received by a cloud. Though we are not told so, this may have been like the cloud connected with the transfiguration, and which descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness and filled Solomon’s temple. Many believe it was the shekinah cloud, a symbol of the glory of God. In other words, it was a supernatural cloud, a symbol of the glorification of the Son. He was resuming His preincarnate glory--the glory He had before the incarnation.
Verse 10 describes the ascent by the words, “while He was departing.” “Departing” is the Greek poreuomai. This was a common word that meant to “go on a journey.” This suggests to us the ascension was a journey, not merely a disappearance. The Son of Man who was the Son of God was passing through the heavens into the heaven of heavens, into the very presence of God to appear there for us (cf. Heb. 4:14; 7:20; 9:24).
Verse 11 describes the ascent by the words, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven.” “Taken up” is the Greek analambano, “to receive up.” This is probably best understood as culminative or climatic and describes His reception into heaven. It describes the final results of the ascension and declares the fact of Christ’s arrival in heaven. By the testimony of two angels from heaven we are told He had reached His destination.
Everywhere we turn in the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus declared to be in heaven at the right hand of the Father in the PLACE OF GLORY, POWER, AUTHORITY, AND PROVISION FOR US.
The Response of the Disciples
What happened next is also important. We find the disciples almost trance-like and bewildered, staring after the Lord into the sky. The Greek text indicates they continued to stare or gaze up into heaven. Partly, I am sure because they were amazed and perplexed, but partly because they didn’t want to see Him go. Perhaps also they were waiting to see if He would soon return.
Suddenly, two men in white clothing, angels, messengers from God, appear beside them and address the disciples first with a question and then with a statement of promise.
The Question: “Why do you stand looking into the sky?”
I believe this question shows us how the ascension should and should not affect us. It may have been a gentle rebuke, but I think it is clear that the angels were calling the disciples’ attention to several important principles:
- We should not be bewildered by the ascension nor stand transfixed or immobile just looking into the heavens. They (and we) should have expected it based on the Old Testament and Christ’s own predictions. SEEING THE LORD AS ASCENDED SHOULD HAVE A DIFFERENT EFFECT ON US.
- We must know and believe that the ascension and session of the Lord is an important and necessary part in the plan of God for the church and for the world. We must trust in God’s plan. The Lord must be absent from us for a time.
- The Lord’s departure means Christ’s exalted position in heaven and the promise of His return. But it also means that we have important matters to attend to as His people whom He has left here to represent Him.
The question posed by the angels implies “do you not understand what all this means to you?” It means Christ is exalted, but it also means the promise of His abiding presence with each believer in a very new and special way. It also means His sure return as King of Kings. The promise of His return means the establishment of His kingdom and His sure reward for faithful service with all the glories of the future.
The Reasons for Witnessing the Ascension
No one saw the Lord rise from the dead, but He was seen ascending into heaven by the disciples.
Men saw the results of resurrection--the living, glorified and resurrected Christ. But the act was not seen, only the results. To confirm the resurrection it was not necessary that men see him rise out of the grave. Knowing He was surely dead, men only needed to see clear evidences for the resurrection such as the empty tomb, the grave clothes as they were lying in the tomb, and the risen Christ who appeared over and over again.
By contrast, the disciples saw Christ ascend into heaven--they saw the act of ascension, but not the result--Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of God. This they could not see except by prophetic vision (e.g., Stephen in Acts 7:55-56, John in the book of Revelation, or Paul on the Damascus road).
The act of ascension was necessary to confirm the result--Christ seated. One of the great doctrines of the epistles is Christ seated in heaven, exalted at God’s right hand and the historic act confirms that for us.
The Lord Jesus physically disappeared from off the face of the earth. Where did He go? Where was He? The ascension with the eye witness account of the disciples provides us with the answer and verifies this great doctrine of Scripture.
Christ’s ascension (the act seen) is the proof of the result (Christ seated as the victorious and exalted Savior).
What difference does all this make to us, to the church in the world? What are the consequences of the ascension? The consequences are so tremendous that the ascended and seated Lord becomes one of the great themes of the New Testament. Everywhere we turn we find references of the ascended and seated Christ, and this has all kinds of implications on the individual and corporate life of the church of Jesus
The Results of the Ascension:
Culminations of the Ascension--what it ended
(1) It ended Christ’s humiliation and self-limitation (John 6:62; Phil. 2:5-11).
Even during Christ’s appearances in His post-resurrection ministry, to some extent, He limited the manifestation of His glory. But through the ascension, though still possessing a glorified human body, the Lord assumed all of His former glory and authority.
(2) It ended His public ministry of words and works (John 17:4-11).
The ascension concluded His prophetic ministry and miracles accomplished by His bodily presence on earth (Walvoord, p. 224). His prophetic ministry and miracles would continue for a while, but only through the lives and ministry of the Apostles.
(3) It ended His redemptive work (Heb. 1:3; 10:12).
The ascension declared His work on the cross was finished. It demonstrated that there was nothing more that could be done for our sin and that He and He alone had accomplished our redemption (Note Heb. 9:11-12).
(4) It ended the Old Testament Covenant and declares the New Covenant to be better and in force (Heb. 8:7-13; 9:11-15, 23-10:1).
The ascension declared that the old Mosaic Covenant was no longer valid, that it was only a temporary covenant until Messiah-Savior could come.
Affirmations of the Ascension--what it says and teaches us about the Lord.
It Affirmed Christ’s Identification
It Affirmed Christ as the God-Man (John 6:62). In John 6 we have the great discourse on Christ as the Bread of Life. Because of His unique person, He is able to give eternal life. This is true because He is not mere man, but the God-Man, the one who came down from heaven. This was difficult to grasp and some grumbled over it. So what did the Lord do? He spoke of His ascension as proof of His origin. The ascension, like the resurrection, would prove His divine origin and that He had been sent of God to solve man’s sin problem.
It Affirmed Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King
(1) As Prophet
In John 3:2, the words “a teacher come from God” set the stage for this encounter. First, it shows his inadequate understanding of the person of Jesus. Christ sought to eliminate an incomplete grasp of His person because this is essential to faith and salvation. A teacher is a communicator of truth and Christ will show Nicodemus why He is able, above all teachers, to reveal God’s truth.
In John 3:13 our Lord shows Nicodemus He has the right and ability to explain and reveal heavenly truth because He is the true prophet, the one who came from heaven and who, following His finished work on the cross, would return--the proof that He had truly come from God. Note Peter’s grasp of this in Acts 3:19-26. (Cf. also John 3:13; 16:7, compare with 12f; 6:14)
As the great prophet and revealer of truth, He would continue this ministry through the apostles via the Holy Spirit (John 16:7, 12f).
(2) As Priest
Jesus’ ascension and return to the Father would demonstrate that He had successfully, as our great and righteous High Priest, offered the one sacrifice that effectively deals with man’s sin and provides justification--righteousness with God. (Cf. Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11-12; John 16:10)
In John 13:1-3 the ascension is mentioned twice because it is on the basis of His work as Priest (Christ in the presence of the Father) that He would be able to continue His ministry as our High Priest and provide continual cleansing. On the basis of His confidence in the ascension, He performed an act which symbolized His continuing ministry of cleansing us as our advocate in heaven at God’s right hand (John 13:4f, cf. 1 John 2:1-2).
(3) As King
In answer to who He was, Christ again made reference to His ascended and exalted position at God’s right hand, only now in connection with His second coming from that ascended and exalted position as King of kings. (Cf. Matt. 26:64.)
It Affirmed Christ’s Exaltation
As with the vision of Isaiah, it declared the Lord Jesus, the God-Man Savior, as high and lifted up. This included the following:
- His Glorification (John 17:5; Acts 7:55; Rev. 1:12-16) It meant a return to His pre-incarnate glory, but it also constituted a glorification of His humanity where He is the Forerunner of all believers who will follow.
- His Session (Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22) It declared that He was in heaven, at God’s right hand, the place of the highest honor and authority. It means the possession of the throne of God without dispossession of the father. It means all glory, authority and power is shared by the father with the Son.
- His Intercession and Protection over His own (John 17:11f; Rom. 8:32f; Heb. 4:14-16) It affirms His continuing ministry for us at God’s right hand: kept by His presence with the Father and His work as High Priest. In this regard, it declares we have an advocate with the Father and a compassionate High Priest, one who cares for us with the greatest compassion and who both intercedes for us when we sin and prays for us in our need.
- His Provision for spiritual power (John 14:25-26; 16:7-10: Luke 24:49f; Acts. 1:8-11) It provided the means of His gift of the Comforter. Without the ascension, there would be none of the ministries of the Holy Spirit as we know it today: no indwelling, no baptism into Christ, and no filling. This would mean the absence of power over sin and power for witnessing. We would be a helpless people.
- His Distribution (Eph. 4:7-11) It affirmed His right to give gifts to His church.
- His Preparation (John 14:3,4) It affirms His promise to prepare a home for His bride. When we lose a loved one who knows the Lord, one of the great comforts is the fact that our loved one has actually gone home and that we will someday be joining them.
- Commission (Matt. 28:19f; Luke 24:44f; John 12:32; 14:12; 17:11-23; Mark 16:19-20). By His commission I am referring to His earthly ministry and that He intends to continue this through the church. Continue it through you and me as we make ourselves available to Him as the risen and ascended Lord through the Holy Spirit His gift for ministry. As with Isaiah, this vision of Christ and its consequences to us, should mean “here am I Lord, send me; do with me according to your purpose.”
It Affirms the Need of Celebration
It affirms our need to celebrate and respond in the worship of the Savior. Remember, worship is not just something we do in some special place. Worship may, as with Israel, be merely external and religious formalism. (Cf. Luke 24:51-53; Col. 3:1)
True worship involves something we are, a people who count on the worth of God for the totality of our lives. Worship includes hearing God’s Word, confessing our sin, prayer, praise, singing and making melody in our hearts, but all of this can be mere religiosity.
What we must see is that true worship means we think, respond and act on the fact of our ascended Lord with obedience, with commitment, and availability to the plan of God for our lives.
It Affords Us With Motivation and Courage
The ascension provides every reason why we should endure and be bold in service for the Lord knowing that our labor is never in vain in the Lord. (Cf. Mat. 28:19; Heb. 12:1,2).
It Affirms His Inauguration as King
The ascension anticipates the establishment of His kingdom and the fact that we will have the privilege of reigning with Him in the millennium and the eternal kingdom of the new heavens and earth. (Cf. John 14:28; 16:16; Acts. 1:11; Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:13; Rev. 5:1-11.)
It Demands a Response
Because of what the ascension means, it demands a response from us to the person and work of Christ. (John 6:62) Failing to assimilate the truth of Christ as the Bread of Life, as the source of our spiritual nourishment and life through feeding on Him by faith and study, the Lord challenged His audience (and challenges us) with these words: “What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?”