by Canon Mark A. Pearson
For forty days the risen Christ walked the face of the earth (Acts 1:3). By so doing He demonstrated that He truly had risen. During this period Jesus taught His followers additional truths (Luke 24:44-47); restored to fellowship and ministry His closest followers, many of whom, like Peter, had a less than stellar Holy Week (John 18:15-18 and 21:1-19); and told them to wait for the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5) before they embarked on their mission (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).
But then it was time for Him to go. Luke describes His Ascension as His being carried or lifted up into the clouds (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:8-10). Some make fun of this image. “Liberal” theologians have laughed at the naïvete of Scripture writers for believing in a “three story universe of heaven above and hell below.” A Russian cosmonaut said he’d been in the heavens and didn’t bump into Jesus. I believe Jesus rose up into the sky and disappeared as the Bible says because God would, of course, illustrate things in imagery people of a particular time could comprehend. Today, He’d probably have Jesus “dematerialize” because we’re familiar with Star Trek imagery.
I’m certain the earliest believers would have wanted their beloved Friend to stay, but Jesus knew better. He told Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…” (John 20:17).
Why the ascension?
1.Jesus Ascended because Heaven was His Home
Jesus is not simply a man born as a baby Who lived a model life and taught good things. He is also the second person of the Trinity — God the Son – coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit — Who at a time and place was incarnated (made human) (John 1:1-14). Now He’s going home. If He had stayed, this Godmade- human would be very, very old. What would now happen in heaven?
A. Jesus would be exalted. To be one of us so He could teach heavenly truths in the language we speak, to model behavior for us, and to die as one of us for our sins, Jesus emptied and humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). Because of His obedience, when His earthly work was done, God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:9, Acts 5:31, Hebrews 10:13).
B. Jesus would enable us to come to the Father. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, the veil of the temple which previously had kept believers out of the nearer presence of God was torn down from top to bottom (Luke 23:45). Thus, we have access to the Father and can come with boldness (Hebrews 4:16, Ephesians 2:18, 3:12).
C. Jesus would prepare a place for us. The night before Jesus went to the cross He told His followers, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). We are not told many specifics of that place and Scriptural language for heaven — “streets paved with gold” — is often symbolic. We do know that the heaven to which believers will eventually go will be wonderful and perfect.
D. Jesus would now begin to intercede for us. The author of Hebrews tells us (9:24) Jesus now appears “in the presence of God [the Father] on our behalf.” Paul writes the Romans (8:34) that Jesus now “intercedes for us.”
E. Jesus would deploy angelic powers on our behalf. Jesus has a heavenly army to fight for us. When Peter tells us Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, he adds, “with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:22).
2. Jesus Ascended So His Work Could Multiply
We’ve already noted that Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand to intercede on our behalf. If He were still on earth He might pray for individuals, but only in heaven could He hear and answer millions of prayer requests at once. Also, His ministry is extended through us. St. Teresa of Avila said, “He has no hands but our hands.” While this is not always true — God sometimes works without human agency — He usually uses people. In the Upper Room Jesus told His followers that the works He did believers will also do, “and greater works than these … because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). We wonder if God can use us because Jesus was and is God and we are not. I believe Jesus did His works not out of His divine nature but His Spirit-empowered human nature. He did not begin His ministry until His human nature was filled with the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22). Jesus had to leave so the Spirit could come (John 16:7). Believers, when filled with the Holy Spirit, can be used to do mighty works (Philippians 4:13). It is for this reason before Jesus’ followers were to GO (Matthew 28:19-20) they were to WAIT for empowering (Acts 1:4). On the Day of Pentecost they were empowered (Acts chapter 2) and the rest of the Book of Acts records what God did through them. Both the “Ascension Gifts of Jesus” (Ephesians 4:7-16) and the “Gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are supernatural ways God the Father continues the earthly ministry of Jesus through us.
3. Jesus Ascended to Heaven because Heaven is Our Home, Too
We often hear that a particular person is “trying to find himself.” There’s specific guidance for any Christian on such a quest. According to Scripture, a Christian’s “life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Because Christ is sitting next to the Father in heaven, we “sit with Him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). To find yourself, look more closely to Jesus. I often pray with people who are inappropriately down on themselves. They believe Satan’s lies because they do not know who they are in Christ. If you’ve repented of your sins and are walking with Christ in the fellowship of His Church, you are members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people… (1 Peter 2:9). I also often pray with people who have major problems. While our faith does not counsel denial of or irresponsibility towards our problems (2 Thessalonians 3:10b), it does encourage correct perspective. We need to focus more on the size of our God than on the size of our problem. Since we are citizens of heaven we have heavenly privileges, and one of them is counting on God to help us at our places of need. And sometimes no matter how holy our lives or how good our circumstances, Christians feel out of sorts. It’s because we’re homesick for heaven, our true home. +