1. Pre-Ascension references
2. The event in Scripture
3. The Ascension regarding Christ
a. At the right hand of the Father
b. Seated at the right hand
c. Ascended far above all
4. The Ascension regarding mankind
a. Raised with Christ
b. Acceptance of humanity
c. The giving of gifts
If you had a brief look at the list of subjects on the home page before reading any of them, you may have wondered why the Ascension had been listed as a ‘doctrine of the cross’ seeing as it occurs some forty days after the resurrection from the dead.
The reason is that the one work of Jesus Christ is contained in the four words ‘crucifixion (or death), burial, resurrection and ascension’ and to deny any one of these is to deny the completed work of God to provide for mankind in Christ.
It seems as if there’s a natural progression in unbelief as we go through these four steps amongst the people who call themselves the ‘Church’. Most will believe that Jesus was crucified. I hesitate in writing that most believe that He died as, in our present time, there have been numerous assertions that Jesus wasn’t actually dead when He was taken down from the cross - therefore the first of the four words to be denied is ‘burial’.
But, moving on, the resurrection is variously interpreted in spite of the simplicity of the Gospel witness to His bodily resurrection and, if a person doesn’t believe that He died and was buried then the resurrection is impossible to believe in - you have to be dead in order to be resurrected.
Finally, the Ascension - a bit too miraculous for some and even more unbelievable than the resurrection seeing as the former is supposed to have taken place on a mountain close to Jerusalem that was in clear view of the city and which wasn’t sparsely occupied.
There also seems to be a progression of belief or ‘realisation’ in a believer’s life as he continues learning about God’s work for him. The Gospel is usually preached as ‘Christ died for you’ though it isn’t long before ‘Christ is risen’ is discovered (especially if Easter is soon to appear on the scene) but the implications of the Ascension often go neglected until much later in the christian walk (if at all) because the types of churches who live out the doctrine (without actually referring it to the work of Christ through the Ascension) are normally the ones that initial believers move to when their original fellowship seems to be going nowhere and they feel compelled to try to find ‘better pasture’.
The teaching is certainly not denied within the Bible believing churches as I’ve previously stated but the realisation that it’s through the Ascension that God in Christ has brought about benefits for His Church and all mankind is not always highlighted.
This brief study on the Ascension will, hopefully, meet the deficiency though one or two sections are almost exclusively quoted Scripture and commentators - there seemed to be very little point in trying to précis these quotes as, in my opinion, I couldn’t say it any better!
Before we go on to think about this subject, I decided to include a list below of the major Scripture references to the Ascension, most of which will be dealt with in the course of our discussion. The sheer volume of references should make us realise that it’s not a minor subject.
OT - Psalms 68:18, 110:1
Also Ps 2:1-6, 8:5, 45:6-7, 69:29, 72:8-11, 72:17, 89:3-4, 89:19-37, 132:11
NT - Gospels. Mark 16:19, Luke 9:51, 24:51, John 6:62, 7:39, 12:16, 16:7, 17:5, 20:17 and possibly others that speak of Christ’s ‘glorification’
Acts 1:2, 1:9-11, 1:22, 2:30-36, 3:21, 5:31, 7:55-56
Pauline Epistles. Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20-23, 2:5-6, 4:8-10, Phil 2:5-11, 3:20, Col 3:1-4, I Thess 1:10, 4:16, I Tim 3:16
Heb 1:3, 8:1-2, 9:24, 10:12, 12:2
I Peter 3:21-22
1. Pre-Ascension references
In the OT, the Ascension of the Messiah is plainly spoken of in two places (though just how much the OT believers understood the Scriptures to be referring to a bodily ascension of a man into Heaven itself must have been limited - it’s because we look back into the OT, knowing what’s happened in the future that we can infer the references have to do with the Ascension).
Ps 110:1 records David as writing
‘The Lord said to my Lord “Sit at My right hand...”’
in a largely prophetic psalm concerning a future time in which he saw YHWH (the first ‘Lord’) say to his greater Son, Jesus the Messiah (the second ‘Lord’), that He was to be exalted into a position of unparalleled power and authority at God’s right hand and, therefore, above all rule and authority into Heaven itself.
There could have been a number of possibilities and interpretations of just how this might come about, it being possible that sitting at God’s right hand may not apply to physical nearness (that is, having to be in Heaven itself) but just having the authority on earth to enforce whatever God wills throughout the world, but the least we can say from the passage is that it proclaimed that David’s greater Son was to take a position where only God Himself was to be over Him.
Secondly, Ps 68:17-18 reads
‘...the Lord came from Sinai into the Holy Place. Thou didst ascend the high mount [Hebrew literally ‘heights’]...’
which is quite a tricky passage to interpret as it has various possible interpretations within the context in which it was originally written.
Primarily, it must refer to God’s descent upon Mount Sinai (Cp v.7-8), His bestowal of the Law and His residence within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle and His subsequent ascension into Heaven (Ex 19:11). Pskid records that
‘Weiser gives the truest translation...“the Lord is with them, Sinai is the holy place”. While other poems picture God sallying forth from His mountains...this declares that where God is, there is Sinai - and, we might add, every place of revelation or encounter’
but the translation - like the RSV - still needs some emendation for it to read the way Kidner takes it.
Secondly, it will refer to the movement of the Lord from Sinai where He gave the Law to Israel into the city of Jerusalem at the time when David set the tent in the city and brought the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s presence) inside.
When the psalm talks about ascending ‘the high mount’ what will be in mind is the climb into the city of Jerusalem and by ‘the holy place’, the actual city will be in mind as the place where God has chosen to put His name and dwell amongst His people.
When you read the entire passage and compare it with I Chr 15:1-16:3, there are striking similarities that shouldn’t be missed. It appears as if David wrote this psalm specifically for the moving of the Ark. However, when David writes (Ps 68:18)
‘...leading captives in Thy train...’
it’s difficult to see a parallel in either of the two interpretations that fully fits in with what we know took place. In the cross, though, we see the place where captives are made - of those things such as sin and death that had held mankind captive for so long.
Therefore, the psalm is speaking prophetically of what the Christ was to accomplish, that He would descend from Heaven to earth, take His people from serving under the Old Covenant and into the New by opening up a way of access directly into the presence of God (Ps 68:17 - from Sinai [representative of the Old where entry into the presence of God was forbidden] into the Holy Place [representative of the New where the presence of God dwells]), fulfil all that the Law spoke concerning Him and then ascend back into Heaven (see Eph 4:9-10 which are the subsequent verses after Paul’s quotation from this psalm and which serve as Paul’s interpretation of the passage. We shall be discussing this verse in a later section).
The psalms talk much of the exaltation of the Messiah, of the heir-apparent to David’s throne and, though these passages don’t specifically talk of the Ascension, they hint at it (see Ps 2:1-6, 45:6-7, 69:29, 72:8-11, 72:17, 89:3-4, 89:19-37, 132:11, but especially Ps 8:5 which talks of the humiliation of Christ as a man before teaching concerning His exaltation).
Looking back into the OT, it’s very easy to read too much in to passages that have little or no reference to the Ascension and I’m quite sure that with at least some of the Scriptures cited I will have done this! But the reader will have to decide for himself which he feels are prophetic glimpses into God’s purpose in the Ascension.
It’s evident from the Gospels that the Ascension wasn’t merely an after thought of God but an event that was fundamental to the outworking of His purpose for mankind in Christ. For instance, we nowhere read of Him saying something like
‘Oh my goodness! What do I do with Jesus now that He’s resurrected?!’
The Ascension was an integral part of His plan.
There are at least two specific references to the Ascension in the Gospels before it took place. Luke 9:51 tells us that
‘...when the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem’
The Greek word here translated by ‘to be received up’ (Strongs Greek number 354) is really a noun meaning ‘a taking up’ and is used only here in the NT, but the verb is used with specific reference to the Ascension in Mark 16:19 which reads that
‘...the Lord Jesus...was taken up into Heaven...’
in Acts 1:2
‘...until the last day when He was taken up...’
and in Acts 1:11
‘...Jesus...taken up from you into Heaven...’
(see also Acts 1:22 and I Timothy 3:16).
Though it would be possible to see in Luke’s usage a reference to Jesus being taken up onto the cross, the other usages of the word point us away from that interpretation towards a reference to the Ascension.
In John 6:62, Jesus Himself asks
‘...what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where He was before?’
speaking of His return to Heaven from which He had come in obedience to the will of the Father. Notice that this verse also implies the Truth around the incarnation, that Jesus wasn’t conceived in a natural way and then became the Son of God but that He was introduced in to society as the pre-existent Son. When Jesus descended to the earth, He didn’t leave part of Himself behind - neither did He lay any of His deity aside.
Otherwise, firstly, He wouldn’t have fully been the Person He was and, secondly, the fulness of God wouldn’t have dwelt in Him (Col 1:19).
Notice that the Gospel of John frequently speaks of Christ being glorified at a future time but the ‘glorification’ of Christ doesn’t necessarily speak of the Ascension as John 12:23-24 clearly shows. Jesus was glorified by the Father through the crucifixion, resurrection and Ascension, the one work that He came to accomplish for mankind.
John 17:4-5, on the other hand, speaks primarily of the Ascension (though Johnmor sees a reference to the cross).
2. The event in Scripture
As previously noted, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are inextricably bound up with His subsequent ascension. Therefore Moore writes that
‘...[the Ascension] is so closely connected with the resurrection as to stand or fall with it...’
Further, if one is accepted, the other follows as an obvious and necessary consequence.
Both Matthew and John don’t refer to the specific event though John alludes to it (in, for instance, John 6:62, 17:4-5) and it’s the obvious occurrence necessary for the fulfilment of Jesus’ words in Mtw 28:18 where Jesus says
‘...all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me’
Both Mark and Luke, though, make unambiguous reference to it.
Mark 16:19 records that
‘...the Lord Jesus...was taken up into Heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God...’
which just about says it all in an economy of words. Luke 24:51 merely records that Jesus
‘...was carried up into Heaven’
but, in his second volume of writing, he records the important details of the Ascension (Acts 1:9-11) that
‘...as [the disciples] were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight...’
and the angel that appears to them is quoted as saying
‘...this Jesus...taken up from you into Heaven...’
Both make it plain that a physical Ascension is what’s intended and not a spiritual or mystical phenomenon.
The event took place on the mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, between Bethany and the Holy City (Luke 24:50, Acts 1:12) and was accompanied by the appearance of two angels (Acts 1:10). The event took place forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3).
Ten days after the Ascension, Peter stood up to preach when the Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost and he included the exaltation of Christ into Heaven in his message (Acts 2:29-36 esp v.33-36).
Although they may not have perceived the full implications of the Ascension at that time, they nevertheless spoke of it as an event that had taken place, of which they were eyewitnesses (Acts 2:32) and which they realised was a consequence of Christ’s resurrection and a fulfilment of OT prophetic Scripture.
The event is therefore well established in Scripture as something that was witnessed and which didn’t happen ‘out of sight’. Whether we believe it or not is another matter entirely, but there’s no good reason to doubt that the NT writers saw it as a historic event.
One final note needs to be made about the statement above that the Ascension took place ten days prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The following should outline the reason for the statement.
Jesus was raised from the dead on the day after the sabbath that occurred during the Passover festival (John 20:1ff). This day was, Scripturally, the day on which the sheaf of the first ripe barley was waved before the Lord (Lev 23:10-14), the festival being fixed by reference to the sabbath that fell during Passover.
Similarly, Pentecost (which means ‘fifty’) was also dated from this sabbath (Lev 23:15-21), seven sabbaths being counted, the following day (also a Sunday) being the day on which the festival was to be celebrated. Therefore, it’s quite straight-forward maths with no real assumptions being made to arrive at the figures stated above.
From the day that Jesus rose from the grave to the seventh sabbath was 7x7 days (=49) and the following day would have been Pentecost (making a total of 50 days duration). As Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 days, this leaves 10 days during which the disciples devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:12-14), waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Ascension regarding Christ
When we look at the NT Scriptures concerning the Ascension, we note three specific statements that teach us concerning what it’s accomplished for Christ.
a. At the right hand of the Father
Various Scriptures inform us that Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father (Mtw 26:64, Mark 16:19, Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:55-56, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, I Peter 3:22). We therefore need to determine what this statement means by referring to other Scriptures where the meaning appears to be straightforward.
Firstly, Gen 48:8-20. Here we find Jacob (Israel) being brought Joseph’s two sons, laying his hands upon them shortly before his death and blessing them both. In Gen 48:17 we see Joseph trying to remove his father’s hands from off his children and swapping them over so that his right hand rested on the firstborn son, Manasseh, for it was the firstborn who had special rights concerning his inheritance (see, for instance Deut 21:15-17. Even though this law was given after the incident recorded in Genesis, it presupposes that some sort of extra honour was already being distributed to the firstborn within Israelite society - Manasseh therefore had the right to receive more than Ephraim).
But Israel prophetically saw that Ephraim would be greater than his elder brother, Manasseh (Gen 48:19), and so had deliberately laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim.
The right hand is, therefore, a position of superiority over and above others (notice that in Gen 48:19 Jacob says clearly that Ephraim ‘...shall be greater...’) and of greater blessing than being positioned at the left hand. In short, the right hand is a place of honour above all else and all others.
Secondly, in Gen 35:18 we see the naming of Benjamin. Rachel was greatly loved by Israel (Gen 29:18) so that his children by her he loved far more than the children of Leah, his first wife. When she gave birth to a child, Rachel called his name ‘son of my sorrow’ due to the pain of childbirth but Israel changed his name to ‘son of the right hand’ denoting honour and favour.
When Joseph had been sold in to slavery and the famine grew severe in their land, Jacob sent all his sons into Egypt to get grain but wouldn’t permit Benjamin to go (Gen 42:4) because
‘...he feared that harm might befall him’
Again, even though the brothers had obtained food for the family by leaving Simeon behind in Egypt as security that they’d return with Joseph’s blood brother Benjamin, Jacob refused to let him go (Gen 42:38) saying
‘...my son shall not go down with you...if harm should befall him on the journey...you would bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to Sheol’
though he had to finally relent under protest (Gen 43:1-15). This illustrates how much importance Jacob attached to Benjamin and why the translation of his name (son of the right hand) was so significant, denoting honour above his brothers.
Thirdly, the phrase ‘the right hand of the Lord’ that’s frequently used in the OT (for example in Ex 15:6 and 15:12) is a figurative way of expressing immense power. If God had delivered Israel with His left hand, the thought would be that He didn’t use His omnipotence, only a part of what was available to Him. But, because He loved Israel, He used all the power at His disposal.
So, the Bible speaks of God stretching out His right hand and delivering them from the oppressing nation. To use the right hand, therefore, is to use the fulness of one’s strength (see also Ps 98:1, Is 41:10).
Fourthly, Ps 16:11 speaks of the great blessing and provision that there is at God’s right hand for all His saints.
In this context of OT Scriptures, when David speaks of the Messiah as being seated at the right hand of the Lord (Ps 110:1), he’s saying that the Christ is to be given a position of great power and authority, a place of unequalled honour and blessing.
It’s these concepts that are at the heart of the NT usage of the saying that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father in Heaven. He’s been elevated into a position that can be neither equalled nor bettered. He is the supreme Head over all things. There’s no other position that can possibly exist that’s more elevated than the One that Jesus now occupies.
Moore writes that
‘...to sit on the right hand is to occupy a place of the highest confidence and authority, and when spoken of a king, in oriental idiom, means to share his royal authority. In regard to the Person of Christ, it means that He was to have the highest majesty and glory placed upon it, and that it was to be invested with universal dominion’
Jesus’ position is therefore seen to be one of co-equal rule with God Himself. As this statement may confuse us with reference to the deity of Christ, a little explanation is required. There are numerous Scriptures where Jesus proclaimed Himself as being the self-existent God, YHWH (see, as a prime example, John 8:58 where He took upon Himself the revelation of God’s name as revealed to the Israelites through Moses at the burning bush in Ex 3:14) and where His followers proclaimed the same (Paul, a Jew, proclaiming Jesus as ‘Lord’ was the same as saying that Jesus is God for, at that time in Israelite history, the Jews would not pronounce the Tetragrammon - YHWH - for fear of taking the name in vain and, instead, used the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ to denote Him. Paul’s use of the word, therefore, is more than saying that he considered Jesus to be his master) but, when we think of Jesus being elevated into a position of authority, second only to God, we’re thinking of Jesus in His humanity (that is, as a man) rather than in His deity (as God).
These statements aren’t saying that God has elevated Himself into a position where He has subjected Himself to Himself (?!), but that He’s elevated a man, Jesus Christ, into a position of sovereignty that it had been His original intention at the start of Creation to do (see section 4b and ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part 2 section 3).
We must view this elevation to God’s right hand, then, from the perspective of Jesus’ humanity, not His divinity.
Finally, some other NT commentators are worth quoting at this point which show the consistency of interpretation amongst scholars as to the significance of the phrase ‘the right hand’. Actsmar on Acts 2:33 writes that
‘this position [the right hand of God] is one of authority...’
Rombruce on Rom 8:34 states that Jesus is
‘...in the place of supremacy over the universe’
Hebguth on Heb 1:3 explains that
‘the right hand was traditionally the place of honour. The idea here is drawn from the practise of oriental kings to associate the heir with them in the exercise of government’
and, finally, Petgru on I Peter 3:22 notes that
‘...in the ancient world, to sit at the right hand of a king signified that one acted with the king’s authority and power...’
and Petstib on the same passage that
‘[Jesus] is enthroned at God’s right hand, the place of supreme privilege and sovereignty in the universe’
b. Seated at the right hand
There are a number of passages that teach us that the Ascension was a direct consequence of the crucifixion. These are significant because they demonstrate to us that the work of Christ shouldn’t be considered solely in terms of the death and resurrection but going on to be completed by His subsequent Ascension into Heaven.
We read, then (Heb 10:12), that
‘...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God’
that (Heb 1:3)
‘...when He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high...’
and (Heb 12:2) that
‘...for the joy that was set before Him, [Jesus] endured the cross...and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God...’
Phil 2:5-11 alludes to this when it outlines the fact that, because of Christ’s humiliation, He’s obtained the exaltation (which could only have come through the literal Ascension).
In all these passages it’s evident that the crucifixion of Christ cannot be complete without the subsequent exaltation of the Christ from earth into Heaven. Indeed, it’s noteworthy that, in all four passages quoted, not once is the resurrection mentioned, only the crucifixion and the Ascension - not that the resurrection is being denied by both writers but because the Ascension presupposes the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Therefore Ephfou on Eph 1:20 writes
‘To Paul...the cross, the resurrection and the Ascension are considered as three parts of one great act of God’
It’s because Jesus Christ took the lowly place that He now occupies the highest place seated at the right hand of God the Father. Hebguth on Heb 12:2 accurately notes that
‘...the passion is seen as part of the path to the Throne’
Incidentally, this is the reason why the temptation by satan in Mtw 4:9 was a very real one for it by-passed the suffering of the cross for dominion of the world - and it’s also a valid point to note that the way of suffering (possibly through resisting temptation) often leads to the believer’s glorification in this life where he discovers more power after the time of testing than he does before (I Peter 5:8-10).
In each of the Hebrews passages quoted above, it talks of Jesus being ‘seated’ not just ‘standing’ (like He is in Acts 7:55-56 where He’s standing ready to receive Stephen’s soul) at God’s right hand, the significance of which being that the work of redemption is now completed and finished - there remains nothing more to be accomplished. To be ‘seated’ is a position that denotes a rest from one’s labours and it’s this that’s in mind. It wasn’t possible that Christ could be referred to as being seated at the right hand of the Father until His work had been accomplished.
The writer to the Hebrews compares the Old Covenant way of sacrifice with the one sacrifice offered for all in Heb 10:11 in which he talks of the OT priests standing daily, offering repeatedly sacrifices that can never deal with sin, whereas in Heb 10:12 he goes on to speak of a single sacrifice so that Christ no longer stands offering but sits having accomplished.
Hebguth on Heb 1:3 writes that
‘the act of sitting...carries a strong sense of fulfilment, for a sitting position is more suggestive of a finished task than a standing position. Indeed, this emphasis on Christ seated...shows conclusively that the sacrificial work is done’
and on Heb 8:1
‘The fact that our High Priest sits at God’s right hand enhances His status compared with that of Aaron’s line, whose priests could only stand in God’s presence, their task never finally completed’
Having accomplished the one supreme work of God whereby the world can be reconciled to Himself, Jesus has taken His seat in the position of supreme power and authority at the right hand of God in Heaven.
c. Ascended far above all
To be exalted into the position of being at the right hand of the Father in Heaven is to be exalted over all things, excepting the One who has put Him into that position (I Cor 15:27). There can be no greater elevation or honour than to be at God’s right hand in Heaven.
Of course, this exaltation must be viewed from the angle of Christ’s humanity rather than His divinity. Though God is already over all things, it’s Christ the man who’s been elevated to the place of supreme authority.
His exaltation encompasses authority over the following.
Heb 1:4 notes that Jesus has
‘...become as much superior to angels as the name He has obtained is more excellent than theirs’
and I Peter 3:21-22 comments that
‘...angels [are] subject to Him’
Because of His Ascension, His position and His name are exalted over any authority or person of angelic being, even though for a little while God made Him lower than them (Ps 8:5).
Phil 2:9-11 comments that
‘God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name...’
so that allegiance of life (v.10 - bow the knee) and allegiance of word (v.11 - confess with the tongue) is Christ’s right and His due from every human being whether deceased, in existence or yet to be. No other person can have such limitless dominion as that of Christ, the God-man, who rules over all intelligent beings in existence under the earth, on the earth and above the earth.
This echoes Ps 2:8 (see also Eph 1:21 which speaks of Jesus’ name as being ‘...above every name that is named...’).
iii. Authorities, powers and rule
A few NT Scriptures proclaim Jesus’ authority over these three areas. I Peter 3:21-22 comments that He has
‘...angels, authorities and powers subject to Him’
Col 2:10 that Jesus is
‘...the head of all rule and authority’
and Eph 1:21 that He’s positioned
‘...far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...’
Jesus’ Ascension has put Him into a position where every human government or leadership and every spiritual principality and power is put in subjection to Christ’s rule.
iv. All things
Eph 1:22 states that the Father
‘...has put all things under [Jesus’] feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church’
while Heb 2:8-9 notes that
‘...in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control’
These verses are very emphatic that Christ’s exaltation is to the position of total supremacy over all the created work of God (see also Eph 4:10).
It seems superfluous to add too much to the above verses seeing as they encompass just about every area of Christ’s authority and rule, but it would be wrong of us to leave the subject here when it’s plain that all around us not all things are yet obeying the will of Christ.
Therefore the Bible states (Heb 2:8) that
‘...we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him’
but goes on to declare that the purpose of God (Eph 1:10) is
‘...to unite all things in Him, things in Heaven and things on earth’
Christ, reigning now, must continue to rule from Heaven (I Cor 15:25)
‘...until He has put all His enemies under His feet’
The two extremes of thought regarding the times immediately preceding the return of Jesus to earth see the Church, first of all, being the instruments of God’s rule ushering in the Kingdom that will be ultimately established (in an even greater extreme of this theory, it’s envisaged that Jesus will have almost nothing to establish as the Church is pictured as being virtually pre-eminent in its power!), while the second view sees the Church being so hard pressed and under persecution that it’s desperately holding out until the Second Coming, achieving very little but just about making it through to see Him return.
The Truth lies somewhere between the two but where we actually draw the line between a victorious, conquering Church and an oppressed, persecuted one is difficult to say.
Whatever, Christ won’t fully establish His will ‘on earth as it is in Heaven’ (Mtw 6:10) until that Day when He returns to subjugate every rule and every authority that’s now in rebellion to Him. Though the Church’s commission is to encompass as much of the world with His rule is clear, the final completion of the task must be left to the return of her Lord from Heaven.
4. The Ascension regarding mankind
We’ve previously looked at what it means for Christ to have been raised back in to Heaven and saw three specific accomplishments. When we consider the Ascension from man’s perspective, we again find three specific statements that teach us regarding what mankind (or, rather, an individual believer) is able to receive because of it.
a. Raised with Christ
If we’re united with Christ in a death like His, then we become participators in the full provision of the cross (Rom 6:5a). If we’re united with Christ in a resurrection like His, then we become participators in all of its provision (Rom 6:5b).
Similarly, if we’re united with Christ in an ascension like His, then we become active participants in all that it has effected for us. Notice that Col 3:1-4 states that
‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God...your life is hid with Christ in God...’
We immediately interpret the phrase ‘raised with Christ’ as referring to the resurrection but, looking at the context, we see that the relevance of the words applies to the Ascension for Paul writes concerning the believers that they should
‘seek the things that are above, where Christ is’
which cannot refer to the resurrection. Colcar writes
‘The Christian...has experienced a radical change of spiritual environment and this should effect his whole mode of life. Having been raised with Christ, he now moves in a new sphere...Normal human ambition is in terms of this world. But the one who has been raised with Christ sees things from an eternal perspective, and so should aim that his life on earth should be dominated by the pattern of life seen in the glorified Christ...to “seek those things which are above” is to aim at emulating the characteristics of the Christ in glory’
These three concepts of the single work of Christ are summed up in Eph 2:5-6 where Paul writes that
‘...when we were dead through our trespasses [solution in the cross], [the Father] made us alive together with Christ [the resurrection]...and raised us up with Him and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [the ascension]’
This passage refers us back to Eph 1:20-23 where the intention of God is shown through Christ’s Ascension. It’s important to realise that just as Christ is
‘...far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...’
‘...He [God] has put all things under His feet...’
so we participate in that exaltation and position if we live in the reality of being ascended with Christ (for a further consideration of the implications of this ascension of Christ, see sections 3a and 3c). If we’re united with Christ then we’re co-ruling with Him, viewing events from a heavenly perspective with Heaven’s authority to change situations to obey the will of Jesus.
Notice also Heb 12:22-24 which talks of believers as already living in Heaven (Mount Zion).
To be a christian, one must be living in the provision of the cross. All true christians live in the cross’s reality, yet not all christians have experienced or are living in the provision of the resurrection.
Even fewer live in the reality of the Ascension. It seems a matter of fact that there’s a progression in a christian’s life from the experience of the cross to the resurrection and through to the Ascension over a period of time, but this needn’t be so!
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached the three-fold provision in Christ as one work (Acts 2:14-39) and this is how it should be today.
b. Acceptance of humanity
Ps 8:5-6 is prophetic when it says
‘...Thou hast made Him [man/Jesus] little less than God [LXX - ‘angels’] and dost crown Him with glory and honour’
Here is humanity raised from its lowly position to its intended destiny. It speaks of Jesus who, made a little lower than the angels for a time, has now taken humanity into Heaven itself.
Through the disobedience of mankind, abiding continually in the presence of God and sharing communion with Him was forfeited (Gen 3:22-24) but now, because of the obedience of one Man, access into the presence of God has been secured for eternity (Heb 10:19-22 - see also the subject ‘Creation/Restoration of Creation’ part 2 section 1).
Through our participation in the cross and resurrection, our humanity is acceptable to God and has obtained freedom of access into Heaven itself. Jesus is the forerunner (Heb 6:20), our evidence that humanity is acceptable to God in Christ.
Moore writes that
‘[Humanity] was banished from Heaven, and its work of restoration cannot be proclaimed as complete until it has been publicly restored to that dwelling-place in the person of its great Representative. As the first Adam was banished from the paradise below, the second must be openly admitted to the paradise above and dwell there...Hence it is most obvious that the Ascension was absolutely necessary’
The great Truth of the Ascension is that there’s a man in Heaven, seated at the right hand of God (Heb 9:24), able to sympathise with our weaknesses (Heb 2:18, 4:15-16) having paid the price for them, but also able to equip us with power to meet every situation that we find ourselves in or encounter.
c. The giving of gifts
Eph 4:8,11 tells us that
‘...when [Jesus] ascended on high He led captivity captive and He gave gifts to men [quoting from Ps 68:18 - on which see section 1]...and His gifts were that some should be apostles...prophets...evangelists...pastors and teachers...’
The Ascension effected a bestowal of gifts to mankind, though specifically to the Church. We hear it said often in the Church today that ‘such and such’ a person has a ‘gift of teaching’ or a ‘gift of evangelism’ or even that they can ‘prophesy’ but this isn’t an accurate description of the gifts that God here has given to His Church (and the labels that we’ve used may well not be accurate ones to use, either!).
His gifts weren’t that some would obtain a ministry of evangelism or of teaching and so on, but that the men would be the gifts themselves to the Body of Christ - it’s an evangelist that’s a gift, not a believer with an evangelical ministry.
Whereas the labels we dreamed up compel us to think of believers with ‘a bit added on’, what Ephesians chapter 4 actually tells us is that the sum total of these people are a ‘teacher’ or an ‘evangelist’ and so on. It’s not that they exercise a gift that they’ve been given but that they can’t help but be the person they are in just about every situation in which they find themselves because it’s a part of their nature, not because it’s something that they’ve got.
The reason for this gifting is that Christ in bodily form was leaving this earth to return into Heaven, taking His five-fold ministry with Him. In order to (Eph 4:12)
‘...equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...’
He gave mankind what was needful in the form of men. Notice (Cp Gal 1:1) that all these men are appointed by God in His Church and never by man. Even though many organisations have used labels such as these to give to men who they put in to positions of authority, man can only recognise the ministry given - they can’t appoint a man to be any one of these five people.
Notice here about the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Ascension didn’t cause the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon mankind, but it was a necessary event that had to take place before it would happen (John 7:39, 16:7, Acts 2:33). Once Jesus left the earth, He was able to continue ministering to mankind through His followers by His presence in them.
Concluding this study, we need to bear in mind that the Ascension wasn’t an afterthought of God but an integral part of the outworking of His purpose in Christ. Just as Jesus is raised far above all rule and authority then, if we have been raised with Him into Heaven itself, we should be living out our existence ‘from Heaven’, hearing what it is that God is saying, living in His presence and operating with the same power and authority that Christ now has at the right hand of God.