And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
We just celebrated the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday, which comes 40 days after Easter in the Church calendar. It is one of the most important feast days of the year and marks a very important point in the life of Christ. However, it is often overlooked and undervalued in the life of the church.
Christmas is always celebrated, not only in the church but even in most societies around the world. Easter has less worldly acclaim but is almost always given its place in the life of churches, because of the importance of the resurrection to the life of a Christian. The Ascension on the other hand usually only finds its way into the consciousness of highly liturgical churches, but most of us (even here in COGS) forget it even exists, and seldom even mark it in any way, especially since it always falls in the middle of a work week.
Tim Keller points out, in his book, Encounters with Jesus, that the Ascension is a critically important event in the life of Jesus. “The ascension, when understood, becomes an irreplaceable, important resource for living our lives in the world” and makes “an enormous difference” for us as Christians. He says that if it was just a means for Jesus to return to the Father, he could have just done it without any fanfare like he did when he slipped in and out of closed doors in his resurrection appearances. But instead his rising happened in plain sight of the gathered disciples. Therefore Keller believes his eventual disappearance into the clouds probably served the same purpose as a coronation ceremony. “The elevation in space symbolized the elevation in authority and relationship. Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”
This has three important implications for us. Firstly, his ascension took him out of the limitations of time and space. While he lived as a man on earth, he could only be at one place at one time. And if you wanted to hear him, or relate to him, you had to be where he was. But now he is able to be present and available to us, across the globe and throughout history. Because of this, he is now with us always, “to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Secondly, the Bible tells us that the ascended Christ is now “exalted at the right hand of God.” (Acts 2:33) This signifies a position of authority, the place of one who now executes the royal authority and rule, becoming the “right-hand man” of the King. To be clear, Jesus has always been king. He has always had the authority and power of the whole universe because he is God. However, his ascension inaugurated his position as the head of the Church, and he is now “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Ephesians 1:21-22) He is all-powerful and is sovereign over everything that happens and is going to happen, not only in our lives, but also in the church, and in the world we live in.
Finally, we know that this exalted Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34) Keller points out this has deep pastoral significance for us.
The ascended Christ guarantees that you can know you are forgiven, accepted, and delighted in by God the Father. According to the New Testament, Jesus’ ascension means he is our high priest—representing us before the throne of divine justice. As Paul puts it in legal language, Jesus “intercedes” for us. This is what he promised the disciples he would do as our advocate; and the ascension allows him to keep his promise.
To use Paul’s language, this means that Jesus is “for us.” And if he is for us, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Jesus our advocate pleads on our behalf, he guarantees our security, and is the one who will complete in us what he has begun! (Philippians 1:6) What comfort and peace we have knowing that the King of the universe is on our side. And that he is our sure and living hope who is an anchor for our souls! (Hebrews 6:19)
May we always remember this reality, especially when we recite the creeds. “He ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” That Jesus our righteous judge, who was judged in our place, reigns on high and will come again to deliver us in the end!