“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.” Mark 16:19
Christmastime brings with it poinsettias and pageants. Easter comes with snow-white lilies. Ascension Day, however, usually comes and goes without a trace. There are no special flowers, no dramatic plays, or special songs. There is no day off from work; the mail still comes. There is hardly any recognition of this day. Yet, it is certainly a day worth celebrating, for it commemorates a great event!
The ascension of Jesus was witnessed only by His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Three New Testament passages tell us what happened on that day. Mark wrote that after Jesus commissioned His disciples, Jesus was received up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God. While this phrase may sound literal to us, it is best understood as a metaphor for the supreme place given to the Son of God. All power and authority were given to Jesus at His arrival into heaven. The ascended Jesus reigns with the sovereign authority of God.
The author of Hebrews confirms this when he wrote, “The point of what we are saying is this: we do have such a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Hebrews 8:1,2).
Jesus had prayed in His high priestly prayer, “Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” That prayer was answered in the ascension. The second person of the Trinity now participates in the glory He shared with the first person of the Trinity before the world was created.
The Cloud Took Him
For forty days after His resurrection, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the kingdom of God. He instructed them to await the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. Then we are told that a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Some might think that Jesus leaving this earth would be a tearful event. After all, Jesus bid farewell to His disciples, signaling to them that He would no longer be physically present with them. For those who had been with Jesus for three years and then witnessed the horror of the crucifixion, forty days may have seemed very short.
If the disciples were dabbing tears from their eyes at all, it was not for long. The ascension proved a far greater blessing. Luke ends with the disciples rejoicing and praising God for the ascension. It had finally dawned on them what they had witnessed. Not only had they been part of a wonderful friendship, but they had witnessed the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. They realized that they had been in presence of God.
Many artists have pictured Jesus disappearing from the disciples by rising up into the sky on a cumulus cloud. We must understand that this was no ordinary cloud. Just as the cloud in the Old Testament was a sign of God’s presence and glory, the cloud that received Jesus refers to the glory and presence of God. In the Old Testament, the cloud would cover the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord would fill the tabernacle (Exodus 40).
The cloud that took Jesus into heaven is the same cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness. It represented the glory of God and the presence of God with the people of God. The disciples witnessed a cloud that escorted their Master into the presence of the Father. The crucified Christ, risen from the dead, has been lifted up out of His suffering and has entered into glory, no longer to be visibly observed by His gathered community. A new relationship had begun.
The Door to Heaven
Paul wrote that Jesus ascended into heaven in order that He might fulfill all things (Ephesians 4:10). John Calvin points out that Christ left us in such a way that His presence might be more useful to us. The presence that had once been confined in a human vessel of flesh was now raised above the heaven in order that His spiritual presence might be unlimited. His power and energy now spread beyond all the bounds of heaven and earth.
Christ’s ascension inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth. The “age to come” has arrived. Like the fairy tale Prince Charming, the Prince of Peace has awakened His cursed and sleeping people and brought them into God’s happily ever after.
The way to heaven, once blocked by our own sin, has been opened. The thorns and thistles have been cleared by the work of Jesus Christ. Through His obedience, death, resurrection and ascension, the door of fellowship with God has been opened. Paul wrote, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
Through His ascension, Christ has become our Advocate and Intercessor. The author of Hebrews wrote, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him because He always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25) As our Intercessor, Jesus is able to change the Father’s way of looking at us because He has stood in our place, dying for our sin on the cross. Instead of looking at our sin, which has already been paid for, God looks at Christ’s righteousness with which we are clothed. We remain sinners, but we have become redeemed sinners saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
We are now received by God’s grace as God’s children because of what Christ has done. We have One who acts on our behalf, representing those truths to the Father already in the ascended Lord. He has opened the way for us to approach the first person of the Trinity without fear.
In addition, the ascension of Jesus gives to the Christian the power of Christ. Quoting Psalm 68, Paul wrote “When He ascended on high He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). From His position in heaven, Jesus lavishes spiritual gifts upon His people every day. We are given power for the present—power to fight against Satan and his forces, power to withstand the temptations that taunt us daily. The same power that directs the cosmos is available to God’s people through the Holy Spirit.
The ascension of Jesus certainly encourages us to look forward to His ultimate triumph and reign at the end of time, but for now we are given the power of His love. In that power we move forward, rejoicing in Christ in every occasion.
A Day Worth Celebrating
Indeed, Ascension Day is a day for celebrating. It is a day we lift up our hymns to Christ’s kingship and His rule over us and all creation. It is a day in which we picture Christ as our advocate before God and pray to Him as our only Mediator. It is a day where we focus our worship on Christ’s presence through the Spirit.
The ascension of Christ also means that our future is secured in God’s kingdom. Paul tells us our future glory is beyond our comprehension. John wrote about a city of gold; a place where there was no pain, no sorrow, and no tears. What an incredible day it will be when we see heaven and we stand in the presence of the risen and ascended Savior, Jesus Christ.