An often-overlooked aspect of Christ’s work is the period after the Resurrection—what the church has called the Ascension. The Ascension is the specific rise of the Lord Jesus to the throne of authority at the right hand of God (Luke 24:13–51).
The church has all but forgotten this important day in redemptive history. Part of the reason it gets little attention is due to the fact we don't really know why it was so essential to our salvation. As wonderful as the death and resurrection of Jesus are, our salvation would not be complete without the Ascension. The Bible itself says that this new reality is the anchor of our hope.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:19-20).
The ascension is an image from the ancient world’s royal ceremonies. The new king would enter the throne room, the inner sanctum, in a spectacular procession. He began his session at the royal court by giving gifts and appointing governors over the realm. This language and imagery is the backdrop for much of the Bible. But why was it necessary for this to happen? What did it fulfill? Why is this the anchor of the soul?
1. The Ascension brings creation to its fulfillment.
Jesus had to fulfill all that the Father called him to accomplish. God brought humans into the world to form and shape the earth into a perfect image of heaven (Ps. 24; 68). God’s will was to be done on earth as it was in heaven, like a sea of crystal reflecting the shining sun above. This perfection is initiated by Christ. Christ brings the world into an undimmed glory that humans should have had, even though man chose his own glory above obeying God.
Christ fulfilled all that Adam failed to do and brought a perfect sacrifice of obedience into God's holy presence so that the glory we fell from could break into the world (Rom. 3:23) Our flesh is in heaven and will bring that glory to earth at his return. This reality promised by God fulfills the great Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 24.
2. The Ascension moves Christ’s work from one of humiliation to exaltation.
Christ’s rule as king begins with his suffering on our behalf. Most kings send their servants to die for them in battle, but not so with Jesus. He is a different kind of king who shows his rule by dying, by sacrificial love. This was necessary for him to accomplish all righteousness and enter this glory that was once promised to us (Luke 24:26–27). Christ went further into the depths of death than anyone had. His valley of tears was the lowest of all who have ever lived in order that he might save the lowliest sinner.
His complete descent into the clutches of the devil was for us. Our redemption from the slave market of sin was now possible (Eph. 4:9–10). Someone free and innocent had to suffer for the condemned. Someone had to enter Satan’s house of bondage and slavery to redeem the captives (Luke 4:16–21). This was Jesus.
Little did the enemies of God know that killing him would undo their power and destroy their hold on the world through the fear of death (1 Cor. 2:6–10; Heb. 2:14–18). Through Christ’s humiliation, all of God’s people would be included in his exaltation at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:3-14) giving them the status of justified heirs, sons and daughters of the king. Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of God and given the name above every name because of his humility (Phil. 2:1-11). He is now worthy of all praise as the "Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 5:8-14).
3. The Ascension was necessary for the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Christ ascended on high as the risen Lord with us in his procession train (Eph. 4:1–16). After being raised from the dead and ascending to his throne, Jesus poured his Spirit out to the church and gave gifts of victory to the saints (Eph. 4:8). He unites us to himself so we too might follow him into glory by his grace (Acts 1:1–11; see also Matt. 24–25 and John 14–16).
With the Ascension of Christ, a new reality has burst forth into the universe—a redemption of cosmic proportions! As fully man, he has entered the Holy of Holies, in the highest heavens above every rule and authority. He went to the depths so he might ascend to the highest heavens and spread the light of God’s redemption everywhere and bring us into that glory. We are now seated with him by faith, united by his Spirit. He showers this salvation upon us as a sign of the glory to come (Eph. 1:3–14 and 4:7–10). The God-man is now present in the Holy of Holies as the anchor of hope for our souls (Heb. 6:19-20).
4. The Ascension gives us direct access to God.
In earlier ages, sinful men and women could not have direct access to God. The old forms of worship could never cleanse the conscience of believers or offer direct access to God. The world lay under the bondage of its wage-master the devil, who controlled the world through the fear of death (Rom 6:23; Heb. 2:14–18). Someone had to die to undo death’s grip once and for all—that was Jesus.
Jesus rose from the depths of our sin and death. The grave could not hold the innocent Son of God (Acts 2:24). Ascending on high, Jesus reigns at the Father’s right hand. There he continues to serve his Father for the good of his people as the heavenly hosts sing his praise, where he daily makes intercession for us (Rev. 12:10). Because we have a human representative in heaven, the throne of grace is our inheritance and privilege that we can enter:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).
5. The Ascension removes the devil from God’s courtroom.
With the Ascension, the devil has been thrown from his place in the courtroom of heaven. This adversary can no longer accuse us as justly condemnable because of Jesus (Zech. 3; 1 John 2:1; Rom. 8:34–37). The great Accuser has been silenced. He cannot use the Law of Moses to condemn. The verdict of "justified" has been declared in God's heavenly courtroom.
As heirs of the heavenly kingdom of God, we finally have an advocate with the Father who hears our prayers. We have access to the throne room of God through Jesus (Heb. 4:16). Raised to immortality, Jesus cannot die and will never cease pleading for us (1 Cor 15). This is the God we have been waiting for.
6. The Ascension breaks the power of this present evil age.
The Ascension strikes at the heart of the way the world worked. The logic of the present evil age (“what goes around comes around” and “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”) is upended by grace. Since Jesus lived, died, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, grace and truth have defeated the power of death over humanity (1 Cor. 15:56–57). He has ascended above every power and authority so nothing can ever separate us from his love.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).
Instead of receiving what we deserve for our cosmic rebellion against God, we have been seated above the rulers of this present evil age (Eph. 1:3–14). We no longer have to fear death or dying in obscurity. We no longer should fear a meaningless life. Grace and truth have met us. Christ’s ascension tells us that grace has the last word (Rev. 22:12–14).
Christ has broken the world-cycle of shame and death. He triumphed over the devil and the rulers of this age, putting them to open shame by showing love to cowards and sinners (Col. 2:6–15). His mercy to those who would kill him stops the mouths of the wicked.
7. The Ascension means sacrificial love is the way of the universe.
Jesus does not defeat death by getting even, by returning evil for evil, violence with violence, shame with shame. No. He removed his glorious crown and descended to undo death by his loving self-sacrifice (Phil. 2:5–11). His death opens the door to new beginnings, to forgiveness, and to freedom from our past actions and shame. Karma is broken. Grace is the way of the universe. Weakness is resurrection-power. Satan’s power over us and in us is torn to pieces by this willing sacrifice of a loving God.
The Ascension allows us to participate in that same love which undoes death. Christ has purified us by his blood, giving us the Spirit. Our suffering and pain in this life are not due to karma or because of God’s displeasure. Rather, our suffering is our glory (Eph. 3:7–13).
As we are united to Christ by faith, our suffering is a participation in undoing death and fear in our lives. We are freed to undo the effects of shame and sin by his power and glory now at work in us. Our lives of grace and humility can give grace to others. Our words have power. Our actions can redeem the time even though the days are evil. Our lives speak of eternity.
The manifold wisdom of God is seen in our weakness (Eph. 3:7–13). His grace is seen in our complete dependence on him. The heavenly gifts continue to flow to us, bringing us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 5:1–10). Christ has ascended on high and has been given the name above every name. He gives us all the good things that we need for life and godliness. His glory and our good are now the same (Col. 2:6–15; Phil. 2:5–11). Because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God, we lack no good thing as we wait with eager expectation for his bodily return.
That is the power of the ascended Lord today.
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