Question: The ascension of Jesus seems bizarre. Did he really defy the law of gravity and have ‘lift off’ into space?
Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, responds:
Recently we’ve celebrated the death and miraculous resurrection of our Saviour. Forty days after his resurrection, when his earthly ministry was completed, Jesus met with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. He gave them some final directions and then, we read, ‘He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight’ (Acts 1:9).
Jesus easily could have departed from them in a less dramatic way. He could simply have disappeared from sight, but he chose this unforgettable way for many reasons. The disciples were left in no doubt that he had actually departed, that his earthly ministry was completed and that a new stage in their lives had begun.
But it was more than that! The ascension of Jesus…
1) Demonstrated his exaltation
Jesus left them with a very powerful symbol that helped his disciples to grasp the truth that he was entering again into that place of authority, honour, splendour and glory that he had set aside when he came to us as a baby in Bethlehem.
Paul wrote, ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11).
In today’s ‘politically correct’ we are discouraged to claim that Jesus was and is unique. But he is! As Christians we can and must unambiguously affirm that no one compares with him.
2) Affirms that our place in heaven is assured
His glorious elevation is our guarantee that nothing can prevent our being with him. In John 14:2-3 we read, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’
He is the forerunner of all who follow him!
3) Reveals that we have an intercessor in heaven representing us before the Father
Romans 8:34 states, ‘Christ Jesus … is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’ He has never ceased to care for us and in heaven we have one who continually represents us before the Father. In 1 John 2:1(NKJ) we read, ‘if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ righteous.’ The Greek word translated ‘advocate’ literally means, ‘one who stands beside us.’ Because of that we may approach God’s throne with confidence and not fear (See Hebrews 4:16).
4) Confirms that God’s presence is always with us
In John 16:7 Jesus promised his disciples, ‘Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ Also, the final promise he made to them just before he ascended was, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.’
Ten days later that promise was fulfilled with the coming of the Holy Spirit to equip and empower them and us to continue Christ’s ministry. We are not alone – God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is with us.
5) Encourages us to live in hope despite our present circumstances
The ascension reminds us to lift our thinking concerning Jesus. How do we think of him? As a little baby in a manger? As an amazing miracle worker with incredible healing powers? As a gentle shepherd caring for his sheep? As a loving Saviour dying for us on a cross? As a risen Saviour who conquered death?
All this is true, but the picture is incomplete unless we see him as he now is. Paul wrote, ‘Though we once regarded Christ in this way [that is, from a worldly point of view], we do so no longer’ (2 Corinthians 5:16). Now he is the ascended, glorified, highly exalted Lord who reigns over all! This is the anthem that is sung to him in heaven – ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ (Revelation 5:13).
The fact of the ascension turns our thoughts from the confusion and chaos around us in the world to the certainty that our Lord reigns! Because of that we can live in hope. The ascension of Jesus should be for Christians an occasion for extravagant celebration!
Dr Jim McClure is the author of Grace Revisited, Overview of the Old and New Testaments and the Understanding… series. Orders and enquiries: jbmcclure AT gmail.com
Got a question? lifefocusministries AT gmail.com
Jim, thanks again for an article that brings us to face the truth of God’s word and what it can mean for us as we journey through this world until the Lord calls us Christians to our eternal home. It is by our consideration of biblical themes such as the Ascension that we can have God’s truth more firmly fastened upon our hearts and minds and by which we can be better prepared for living and for mission in this earthly phase of our existence.
It may not be an overstatement to say that Christians are, to use the colloquial, dying to hear or to be reminded of the truth as it really is. Please, keep writing about the essentials of the Christian faith so that we Christians, and – should they read it – those who do not yet know Christ in reality, might be informed and challenged to live and serve in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ which is announced to us in the Bible.