When we talk about the ascension, we aren’t merely referring to Jesus’ physical rising into the sky. Today, Barry Cooper explains that in this climactic moment, the victorious Christ rose to His throne as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In many countries, Ascension Day is considered to be so important that it is celebrated as a national holiday—though not in the U.K. (where I’m from), and I think that’s contributed to the fact that the ascension seems to have slipped off the radar for many people, even professing Christians, many of whom don’t quite know what to do with it.
And yet the great church father Augustine said that Ascension Day should be the greatest of all Christian festivals. He said, “Unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, His nativity would have come to nothing.” What did he mean?
The ascension is described like this at the end of Luke’s gospel:
[Jesus] led [the apostles] out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke adds more detail at the start of the book of Acts:
When [the apostles] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Well, what is this “ascension” all about?
We sometimes talk about kings and queens “ascending to the throne,” and this—the ascension of Christ—is the supreme example. It’s nothing less than the visible demonstration that Jesus Christ is now enthroned in heaven. So when we talk about the ascension, the word isn’t simply referring to the physical “rising up” of Christ. He is also ascending to the throne. The ascension is the coronation, the crowning, of the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.
How does this affect us as believers?
Well, in his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul says that God raised Christ from the dead “and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21).
But as Paul makes clear, it’s not only Christ who is seated in the heavenly places. He says that as a result of Christ’s being raised and seated at God’s right hand, it is now true that if you are united to Christ by faith, you too are “seated . . . with [Christ] in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). That’s the remarkable phrase that Paul uses.
You may remember from the Simply Put episode on the Day of Atonement that it was only once in the whole year that someone could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to approach God’s holy presence. Only the high priest could do it, and only after the most exacting sacrifices had been performed. But now, because of the ascension, our Great High Priest has taken us into the Holy of Holies with Him—to be with Him, forever, in the most intimate presence of Almighty God. You are effectively already seated with Christ in the true, heavenly Holy of Holies.
That is why Jesus came. The aim was not simply that your sins might be forgiven. The aim was that you would experience the ultimate joy of resting forever in the blissful presence of God Himself.
Without the ascension, that would be nothing but an unapproachable impossibility.