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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

How Christ’s Ascension Can Change Your Life

by William Boekestein posted May 18, 2023

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. He has defeated death and gained new life for everyone who trusts in him.

But it would be a mistake to think that the resurrection is the end of the story of Christ’s saving work. It may surprise us that while the Heidelberg Catechism asks only one question about the resurrection, it asks four questions about the ascension (see Q&A 46–49). Part of the reason has to do with a sixteenth century debate. But the debate itself shows the importance of the event.

What Is the Ascension?

Christ’s ascension is that historical event following his resurrection at which Jesus was physically and visibly raised from the earth as he returned to his Father in heaven. After Christ rose from the dead, he lived 40 more days on earth (Acts 1:3). During this time, he appeared to many people, proving the reality of his resurrection. He also encouraged his friends and continued teaching them (Acts 1:1–3), ending on the crescendo known as the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). Christ was returning to heaven. His disciples were to remain as witnesses to his life and ministry. But they wouldn’t be alone; in some way he would be with them.

After commissioning and blessing his disciples, he was carried up into heaven before their eyes (Acts 1:9). This is where Christ is to this day. As the Apostles’ Creed says, he now “sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” Christ remains in heaven on our behalf, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34), and preparing a place for us (John 14:3). He will return to earth as judge and take his people back to live with him forever.

Still, Christ is with us today. The Heidelberg Catechism objects to the Lutheran teaching that Christ’s physical body must be present in the Lord’s Supper because of its union with his divine nature. While Jesus’s divine nature is ubiquitous—or everywhere present—it doesn’t change the properties of his authentic humanity.[1] Christ took a human body that, like ours, was truly present only in one place at a time. Because Christ is bodily in heaven, he’s no longer with us physically. But “in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.”

Why Is the Ascension Important?

Jesus’s ever-present divinity calls us to worship

In response to the ascension, the first disciples worshipped him (Luke 24:52). Returning to the temple they continued to worship and study to know him better (Luke 24:53). Prior to his ascension, the disciples gathered around Christ’s physical body and worshipped him when they caught a passing glimpse of his glory (Mark 9:1–10Matt. 14:33). After his ascension, his disciples gather as his spiritual body to worship and serve the Lord who was dead and is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).

Jesus’s ever-present majesty cheers us by his rule

Paul applies to Christ the words of the great battle hymn: “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered” (Ps. 68:1). “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,” as in a royal victory parade, “and he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). The Lord who descended into this world also “ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10) and poured out upon us the promised gift of his comforting Spirit. Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to defeat his enemies (Ps. 68:2) and lead his people to heaven.

Jesus’s ever-present grace assures us of his intercession

We have a high priest who has passed not through the curtain into the Holy of Holies, but also through the heavens for us (Heb. 4:14). Believers have a heavenly advocate who intercedes for us, making a passionate case for our salvation (1 John 2:1). He “always lives to make intercession” for those who come to God through him (Heb. 7:25). And the Father always hears the Son who is in God’s presence for us (Heb. 9:24).

Jesus’s ever-present Spirit unites us with God

The Spirit is the other counselor whom Christ promised to leave us, the down-payment of our future fellowship with God, and our personal access to our praying high priest. Jesus told his disciples, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Jesus was physically absent from Mary and Martha in their grief (John 11:2132). But now the Spirit assures us that God is not far from any of us in our need (Acts 17:27).

Jesus’s physical absence strengthens our hope in heaven

Christ walked this earth as one of us, having taken on a human nature, a real human body and soul. When he returned to heaven, he didn’t shed this humanity. Truly, “our flesh is in heaven.” I remember once trying to build up the confidence to jump off a tall cliff in Arizona. I needed someone else to go first. I knew I could do it when my friend’s head bobbed out of the water after his leap. Christ’s presence in heaven is a sure pledge that his followers too will join him in body and soul.

Christ’s resurrection answers our cries for new life. For believers, it’s the death of death. But God’s people were not made simply to live, but to live in God’s presence. The psalmist is right, “To live apart from God is death.” Christ’s ascension positions believers in God’s presence. It enables us to sing, “In sweet communion, Lord with thee I constantly abide; my hand thou holdest in thine own to keep me near thy side.”[2] Christ our mediator is both with us and with God. And one day those two realities will be the same.

This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.

[1] Ursinus, Commentary, 248–249.

[2] Trinity Psalter Hymnal, 73C.

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