On Good Friday, there was a crucifixion. On Easter Sunday, resurrection. And now, forty days later, ascension.
For many Christians and churches, Easter is the end of the celebrating. We tend to forget or just skim over the essential part of the story where Jesus ascended back into heaven. We might even hear that today is Ascension Day and think, “why does that matter for me at all?” or wonder what this day even means.
We find the ascension story told in the first chapter of Acts, following the Gospels. Acts 1:9 tells us “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight,” and verse 11 adds, “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.”
In Learning Jesus Christ Through the Heidelberg Catechism, Karl Barth says, “The conquest of death and the exaltation of life was an event in Jesus Christ the Head. His exaltation is history just as his humiliation is history.”
Andrew Wilson goes on to add, “We must in any case understand objectively the statement that Jesus Christ was taken up from earth into heaven before the eyes of the disciples.” Acts 1 makes this clear to us.
So now that we know the story, we can dive deeper into its importance and relevance for our lives and our faith.
“The ascension is a vital part of the redemption story,” Steve Mathewson writes for The Gospel Coalition. “If we simply collapse the ascension into the resurrection, we miss stunning benefits tied directly to Jesus being taken into heaven.”
It’s not enough to celebrate the Risen Lord on one spring Sunday and then forget about what comes next. The ascension is crucial, and it’s life-changing and eternity-changing for us as believers.
Mathewson shares five ways the ascension of Jesus benefits us:
- It establishes Jesus as the reigning king over all powers in all ages. Ephesians 1:20-21 says God “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 2:6-7 brings us into the picture, saying “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Mathewson adds, “It’s the Lord’s power that makes this possible (Eph. 6:10)—a power we can access as believers seated in the heavenly realms with our ascended King.”
- It gives us access to God’s throne for mercy and grace. In Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14),” Mathewson says. “Passed through the heavens” is the ascension language; Jesus passed through the heavens to be seated at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). What’s the result? We can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
- It provides an Advocate on earth whose presence is limitless. I can’t imagine the confusion and grief of the disciples when they learned that their teacher and friend would be killed. In John 14:16-17, we see Jesus comforting them with the promise that the Father will send another advocate, the Spirit of Truth. “How is Jesus’s leaving an advantage for his disciples?” The answer is simple, yet profound,” Mathewson says. “The incarnate Jesus was limited by space and time. He couldn’t be with each one of his followers at once. If he had stayed on earth, he couldn’t have been there simultaneously for Peter in Rome and John on the island of Patmos. But the Holy Spirit can. His empowering presence is available to all Jesus’s followers everywhere at the same time.”
- It gives us the spoils of Christ’s victory-- gifted leaders and spiritual gifts. “In Ephesians 4:7–12, Paul connects the grace we’ve received with the ascension,” Mathewson explains. “This grace refers to spiritual gifts Paul describes elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 12) and to the gifted ministers of the Word (Eph. 4:11).”
- It keeps us longing for his return. Once you’ve gotten close to someone and spent significant time in their presence, their absence feels like a massive void. It is the same with Jesus for us as believers, and especially for his first disciples. He isn’t here in the flesh with us now, but He one day will be, and our hearts yearn for that day. We know he will set all things right and bring us close to Him for all eternity. “The ascension creates a longing for Jesus’s return,” says Mathewson. “It reminds us his reign is “already” but “not yet.” When Jesus descends in the way he ascended, the bad times will be over for good, the darkness will lift, and everything sad will at last come untrue.”
On this Ascension Day, may we reflect on how the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of our Savior Jesus Christ changed the whole course of our lives and changed our world forever. May we celebrate that our Lord is reigning from heaven as the one true King, and may we rejoice that we have the Holy Spirit as our ever-present advocate. May we eagerly await His return and fervently share the Gospel until He does.
Publication date: May 5. 2016
Rachel Dawson is the editor of BibleStudyTools.com.