6. Christ’s AscensionRelated Media
After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight. As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”
After Christ’s resurrection, he stayed on the earth for forty days (Acts 1:3)—appearing to his disciples and 500 other believers (1 Cor 15:6) and encouraging them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. Apparently, the Holy Spirit could not come until Christ ascended. In John 16:7, Christ said: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.” When Christ lived on the earth, he was limited by locality. He couldn’t be with each disciple at all times. However, because of Christ’s ascension, every disciple is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and can experience his power, wisdom, and presence at all times.
Soon after encouraging the disciples to wait for the Spirit, Christ ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9), where he now sits at the Father’s right hand until he returns to rule the earth. Hebrews 10:12 says, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ’s sitting represents his completion of redemption. With that said, Christ’s sitting does not mean he is idle; in fact, he is still busy doing ministry for us.
What is Christ’s present ministry in heaven?
1. In heaven, Christ rules as Lord, at the right hand of God, and is awaiting his ultimate rule.
In Acts 2:34-36, Peter said this (as he quoted Psalm 110:1):
For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.
Christ currently rules at the right hand of God. When Christ commissioned the disciples, he described this, as he said that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him (Matt 28:18). Christ’s rule in heaven includes the restoration of his former glory. In John 17:5, Christ prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.” In addition, his rule includes forming, leading, gifting, empowering, and ministering to the church as its Head (cf. Mk 1:8, Col 1:18, Eph 4:7-13, John 15:1-10, 5:23-31). Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”
At the right hand of God, Christ awaits the time when God will bring all into submission, as Christ’s enemies become his “footstool” (Heb 10:13). This will ultimately happen at Christ’s return when he judges those who reject him and rewards the faithful. Christ said that the Father judged no one but had entrusted judgment to Christ (John 5:22). Christ will judge unbelievers at the great white throne of judgment (Rev 20:11-15) and believers at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Ultimately, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord (Phil 2:10-11). Currently, Christ rules in the heavens as Lord until he returns to rule on earth.
What else does Christ do in his present ministry?
2. In heaven, Christ intercedes for all believers as their high priest.
As high priest, Christ represents believers before God—praying for God to forgive their sins and keep them from the evil one, for them to be sanctified and united, among other things (cf. John 17). Since Christ is both human and God, he can relate to his people and sympathize with them in their weakness. Hebrews 4:15-16 says:
For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.
He understands being hungry, lonely, rejected, hated, criticized, and tempted. Therefore, with this understanding, he intercedes for believers, including keeping them from ultimately falling away from God. Hebrews 7:24-25 says, “but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Certainly, we get a good picture of Christ’s intercession in how he prayed for Peter right before Peter denied Christ. In Luke 22:31-32, Christ said, “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” No doubt, Christ prays for us as we encounter temptations as well—that our faith would grow through the trial, that we would remain faithful to the Lord, and ultimately strengthen other believers.
3. In heaven, Christ is preparing a perfect, eternal abode for his people.
In John 14:1-3, Christ said this to his disciples who were discouraged about his leaving:
Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.
Revelation 21:2 describes the “place” Christ has prepared for believers when it says, “And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.” As heavenly Jerusalem descends to the earth, we can be sure it is our Lord who has made her “ready.” This gives us hope. Christ will return, and we will dwell with him eternally in our perfect abode (cf. Rev 21:9-22:5).
How should Christ’s present, heavenly ministry encourage us?
1. Christ’s heavenly ministry should encourage us to pray.
If Christ, as our high priest, continually intercedes for believers (Heb 7:25), then certainly we should continually pray for them as well. We should pray that God would sanctify, protect, and use believers to build God’s kingdom (cf. John 17).
In addition, since Christ awaits his ultimate kingdom and rule on the earth, we should continually pray for his kingdom to come, as taught in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12). This includes praying for the salvation of the lost, the spread of peace, righteousness, and joy throughout the earth (Rom 14:17), Christ’s return, the judgment of the lost, and the rewarding of the saints.
2. Christ’s heavenly ministry should assure us of the believers’ eternal security.
Though there are many texts calling believers to persevere in the faith, and that only those who persevere in the faith are truly saved (cf. Col 1:22-23, Matt 24:13), ultimately, this perseverance is enabled by Christ. He is the one who seals us with the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30), prays for us so we can be saved to the uttermost (Heb 7:25), protects us in the midst of trials and temptations (1 Cor 10:13), and puts us in his hand (and the Father’s hand) to keep us (John 10:28-29). Our ultimate salvation depends on Christ, who will keep every true believer. He came to do the Father’s will, and God’s will is that Christ lose none of the elect but that he would raise them up in the last days (John 6:38-39).
3. Christ’s heavenly ministry should encourage us in our ministry, as we understand the authority and power we have in him.
Since believers are unified with Christ in his redemption (in his death, burial, and resurrection, Rom 6:3-5; cf. 1 Cor 12:13), we are also unified with him in his ascension. This seems to be what Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:6 when he said, “and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” And since his ascension is associated with authority and power to rule (Eph 1:20-23), believers have a measure of authority and power in Christ now and will share it more fully when Christ returns. Wayne Grudem provides further insight on this:
But if Christ’s session at God’s right hand refers to his reception of authority, then the fact that God has made us sit with Christ means that we share in some measure in the authority that Christ has, authority to contend against “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; cf. vv. 10–18) and to do battle with weapons that “have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4)1
Certainly, we should take confidence in our position in Christ as we pray over individuals, communities, and nations under spiritual attack. We are seated in Christ over demonic powers and authorities (Eph 2:6, 1:20-23). Also, we should take confidence in our union with Christ when it comes to various types of ministry: counseling, administrating, preaching, and leading. The power that both raised Christ from the dead and ascended him into heaven is working in us. Paul actually prayed for our eyes to be awakened to understand this (Eph 1:17-22). Surely, Christ was encouraging the disciples with this new reality when he commissioned them to make disciples. In Matthew 28:18-19, he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Christ had received this authority and power, and he was sharing it with the disciples to do ministry in his name. As we abide in Christ through prayer, worship, and time in God’s Word, we tap into this authority and power to do effective ministry (John 15:4-5).
As mentioned, believers will share in Christ’s authority and power more fully in the coming kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Paul said, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters!” Also, Christ promised this for believers in Revelation 2:26-27,
And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations—he will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces
Again, this should give us great confidence as we minister to others. Because of our union with Christ in his ascension, we share in his authority and power. As we abide in him, we are empowered to serve God and others more effectively. One day, we will rule and serve others with him at his coming.
4. Christ’s heavenly ministry should encourage us to be patient, as we wait for his second coming.
As Christ waits at the right hand of God (cf. Heb 10:12), in this season of grace, we wait. We wait, not in the sense that we are not active in completing the great commission. We wait in the sense that we shouldn’t be anxious or worried about the apparent lack of fruit or evil that surrounds us. Christ is coming and his enemies will become his footstool (Heb 10:13). All will submit to Christ and call him Lord (Phil 2:10-11). We wait patiently for this. In addition, though often not acknowledged or rewarded in this season on earth, in fact, often receiving the opposite of those things, one day Christ will return and reward those who faithfully persevered in serving him (Matt 25:21). Christ’s present ministry of waiting at the right hand of God should encourage us to patiently wait for his return with our hearts, as we actively serve him with our bodies. In James 5:7-8, James encouraged suffering believers with these words:
So be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s return. Think of how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the ground and is patient for it until it receives the early and late rains. You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord’s return is near.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What is Christ currently doing in heaven?
- How should his current heavenly ministry affect our lives?
- What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 619). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
Related Topics: Christology