In the midst of pandemic, the people of Christ can still feast on the blessed hope of Easter. On this fortieth day since Jesus rose from the grave some 2,000 years ago, the worldwide church celebrates His physical ascension to heaven.
“… He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus walked the earth, ate with His disciples, preached more good news about the Kingdom of Heaven, and presented Himself alive to more than 500 people “by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3, I Corinthians 15:6).
The crucifixion, resurrection and ascension are all essential parts to the whole of our salvation. To dismiss the ascension is to miss a significant part of the gospel story.
But why did Jesus need to leave the disciples, and where exactly did He go? And how does this mysterious disappearance have any positive impact for the believer today?
Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father to be enthroned as King forever (Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:21-23, Philippians 2:10-11).
The tomb is empty but the throne is not.
While "all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Jesus after the resurrection, the ascension marked the end of His earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly ministry (Matthew 28:18). This is why Jesus, physically absent from earth, sent His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower all of His followers.
The ascension was, in essence, the coronation of Christ and the commencement of His Messianic reign.
We who are in Christ get to enjoy all the benefits of those belonging to and beloved by the King. We are a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession …” (I Peter 2:9).
Before He ascended, Jesus told the disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
If you are saved in Christ, your salvation is not just for you but so others may be saved by Christ through you. As Christ’s gospel continues to be preached and His kingdom expands to the very ends of the earth, enemies of heaven are being put under His feet (I Corinthians 15:25).
“The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool’” (Acts 2:35, Psalm 110:1).
What does this mean for us?
Because Jesus ascended from the grave and into heaven, we who are in Christ will too.
Just as Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our sins, His ascension paved the way for us to live in victory with Him today and forever. As King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus stands over our sin, our shame, our strongholds, our fear and insecurity. He is “far above every ruler and authority and power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21-22).
Through Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit, we too can ascend spiritually, mentally and emotionally today, and physically in the future when He returns for the saints saved by His blood.
On that skull-shaped hill called Golgotha, outside the gates of Jerusalem, Jesus defeated death. Through His sacrificial and substitutionary death, He saved the dry, dead bones of humanity. Right there in a borrowed tomb, God breathed life into Jesus – the better Adam – and the promise of new life in Him became possible for everyone.
Spiritually, when you confess Jesus as Savior, you ascend from death to life.
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news explicitly because it is a free gift from God. Jesus descended from heaven, relinquishing His crown to lay in a cradle and be raised on a cross.
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13).
God doesn’t require us to ascend the ladder of the law to reach Him. God came to us, and “by grace through faith” in Jesus, we can be saved (Ephesians 2:8)
There is a history of ascension all throughout the Bible, pointing to this monumental moment in time when Jesus would ascend to heaven and claim His rightful authority. This was always God’s plan.
In Jesus, both the law and the prophecies foretelling a coming Messiah were fulfilled - specifically, perfectly and without exception (Matthew 5:17). Jesus kept the law where mankind could not. And of course, where the flawed kings of Israel and Judah ascended and descended thrones, Jesus is the perfect, eternal King enthroned “for all generations” (Psalm 89:4).
When a believer in Christ breathes his last breath, although his physical body remains, his spirit immediately ascends to heaven to be with God forever.
“And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Mentally and Emotionally
The ascension of Jesus impacts believers mentally and emotionally, as well. We are spiritually raised so that we can love the Lord with all our hearts and minds.
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).
As new creations, Christians can ascend in both heart and mind. The old way of thinking, living and speaking has been “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19). Yet, while we remain in our earthly tents, our flesh wages war against our spirits. We are not yet perfect. We still sin and default back to old habits and hang ups.
Who hasn’t felt their thought life and emotions descend into disappointment, discouragement or even despair at some point these last few months?
The trials of life test our faith life in the Lord.
But as St. Augustine in the late 4th century implored, in both our darkest and brightest moments we are to: “Cleave unto Christ, who by descending and ascending, has made Himself the Way. Do you wish to ascend? Hold fast to Him that ascends. No one can ascend, but he who in His body is made a member of Him.”
The only way we can seek the things above and “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” is to abide in Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). The only way we can dwell on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise is by abiding in the One who is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).
As we abide in Jesus, our hearts and minds will ascend to the things above and not be weighed down by the things of this world. As we cling to Christ, the Savior who ascended in victory will raise our spirits to ascend in victory too.
The ascension of Jesus assures that He will come again one day, in the same way, for all those who have put their faith in Him.
“While He was going, [the disciples] were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who had been taken from you into heaven, will come the same way that you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).
The Moody Bible Institute says it best: “His return from heaven will be personal, visible and glorious, a blessed hope for which we should constantly watch and pray” (Zechariah 14:4; Titus 2:13; Revelation 1:7).
When Jesus returns on clouds of glory, the dead in Christ will be raised and living Christians will ascend to meet the Lord and be with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:51–54; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).
“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28).
In this resurrection, those who have died in Christ will have their redeemed spirits united with a body similar to Christ's glorified body. Christians living at the time of this event will not die, but will be changed to be like Christ (1 John 3:2).
This means that our hope in Christ is not just theoretical but material. We will see Jesus face-to-face one day. We will touch Him, eat with Him, walk with Him and be held by Him. We will ascend to live with Him forever, no longer descending to the dreadful ditches of disease, decay and death. There will be no more sickness, no more sadness, no more suffering.
Because Jesus ascended, we will too - spiritually, mentally, emotionally and, one day unknown to all but God the Father, physically.
Abide in Jesus, and feast on the fruits of this glorious Ascension Day.