“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:9)
Today we celebrate Ascension Day, the event after Jesus’ resurrection when He ascends to the Father’s right hand in glory. I believe the ascension is one of the most-neglected aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus. Forty days after His resurrection, after appearing many times to the disciples, Jesus ascended into heaven with the Father (Luke 24:49-51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:3-10). The ascension of Jesus is significant for many reasons, but let me draw attention to three reasons why the ascension matters:
- after His ascension Jesus is enthroned with the Father
- after His ascension Jesus intercedes for us
- after His ascension Jesus will return
The Ascension Confirms the Enthronement of Jesus
When the Apostles’ Creed states that Jesus “ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” we are being told that Jesus is enthroned as King in His ascension. When Jesus ascends from earth, the disciples witness of Jesus taken into the heavenly realm where God dwells: “he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Stephen’s vision of the heavenly realm before his martyrdom expands this even further: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
With these two visions of Jesus’ ascension and the reality on the other side of it, we find in Jesus’ ascension the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Jesus often referenced this passage in relation to Himself. With the ascension we see that Jesus not only enters heaven, the place where God lives and operates, but receives His appropriate enthronement at the right hand of God in an unshakable kingdom. This is echoed in further New Testament pictures of the heavenly scenes of worship:
- “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
- “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).
The ascension of Jesus reminds us not only that God’s kingdom been inaugurated with the incarnation of Jesus, but also confirms that Jesus’ throne is established at the Father’s right hand until He returns at the consummation of His kingdom in the new heaven and new earth. We know even now that Jesus reigns as King, no matter what happens around us.
The Ascension Affirms Jesus’ Eternal Intercession on Our Behalf Before the Father
Forty days after completion of His work in the Cross and the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to rule as King at the Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was a once-for-all event (Hebrews 9:24-28) that secured His place as the unique mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5).
The writer to the Hebrews builds upon these truths to help us understand Jesus’ role in the presence of God not only as King but as eternal intercessor: “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Some may envision this as Jesus forever bowed in prayer for us, but the picture is richer than that. Jesus stands in the presence of the Living God simultaneously as our Advocate and High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb before the Father. His eternal sacrifice is eternally effective and eternally offered before God on our behalf (Hebrews 1:3; 7:25; 8:1). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, there is no one and nothing that can condemn us before God (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).
Even more, since Jesus’ stands in the presence of God, His effective advocacy on our behalf transcends geography and time. Jesus is not limited by time and space as He was in the incarnation. Now, as He stands in the presence of God, He hears and answers our prayers no matter when or where we lift them. In fact, we can always “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
As fully God, Jesus the Son intercedes before the Father with authority as King, yet as fully man, Jesus the Son intercedes before the Father with empathy and understanding of our circumstances as the New Adam. We can be encouraged that the death and resurrection of Jesus’ are always effective on our behalf because Jesus has ascended as Eternal King and Mediator. And let us always know that the grace of God flows abundantly through Christ to us when we reach out to Him in prayer.
The Ascension Points to Jesus’ Eventual Return in Glory
After Jesus’ ascension, two heavenly beings, or angels, speak to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Throughout the New Testament, many writers tell us that there will come a day when Jesus will return to establish His kingdom fully “here on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Five things we know about Jesus’ return from Scripture are:
- It will happen (Acts 1:8; John 14:3)
- It will happen in God’s time (Acts 1:6-7; Matthew 24:36)
- It will be recognizable to all (1 Thessalonians 4:15; Revelation 1:7-8)
- It will bring the fullness of Christ’s victorious kingdom over all (Revelation 19:11-16; 21:1-5)
- It will bring vindication for God’s people in the sight of all (1 Thessalonians 4:11-5; 1 John 3:2)
Jesus, the Ascended King, will return in glory, bringing the fullness of God’s kingdom and righteousness that will lead into the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth. Just as He ascended to the Father’s right hand after His resurrection from death, so Jesus will descend as King to usher in a new heaven and new earth. As His people, we will enjoy that new heaven and new earth, secure in God’s final judgment because Jesus intercedes for us as the once-for-all Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The ascension of Jesus becomes a source of hope and encouragement for us because it draws our attention to His eventual return and the consummation of all God’s purposes and plans. Let us persevere in light of the resurrection and ascension until the day of His coming or when we see Him face-to-face, whichever arrives first.