I know we looked at this same passage yesterday, but there’s one more aspect of it that deserves a full day’s entry. The last part of the passage describes his Ascension, the fact that he bodily left this plane of existence to return to his place with the Father, the place he vacated at the Incarnation. This is a part of Christian doctrine, but a lot of believers just read it and confess that it occurred without realizing the full import of this event. Yes, it’s a vital and essential part of our faith, and—being the practical theologian I am—I’m going to give you at least five reasons why this should matter to you.
First, his ascension to the Father’s side caps off and signifies his completed work of atonement, the covering of our sin by his blood. The author of Hebrews makes a huge point of this. At least four times he uses the term “once for all” to express this truth. There were no chairs in the priestly part of the temple, since a priest’s work was never really completed. Every year, over and over and over and over, this man would go into the Most Holy Place and offer the same sacrifices to God in order to cover the sin of the people. In stark contrast, the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus that “[after] he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Including this verse, there are four times he uses this phrase ("sat down") to show us that Christ’s work of atoning for our sins is finished. Our sins are covered and forgiven. In that arena, his work is done.
Second, his ascension means that while his work of atonement is completed, he’s still doing the other task of a priest: Intercession. You and I need a mediator, a go-between. We need someone to stand between us and the Father and plead our case. That’s another thing accomplished by this event. The apostle John tells us “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” He’s our Defense Attorney, and you could never ask for a better one.
There’s a third purpose for the Ascension. At the Last Supper, the disciples were, quite understandably, upset as it finally dawned on them that the Master was serious about leaving them. But according to him, there’s a greater purpose behind this: “[Very] truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” That’s what happened on Pentecost, and it continues today. All the work of the church since the departure of Christ has been accomplished because of the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us and does his work through us.
Fourth, the Ascension is a further source of comfort to us beyond what we’ve already discussed. The entirety of Jesus’ ministry was a clash of two opposing spiritual kingdoms. The Enemy had laid claim to this world and all humanity since the Fall of our first parents. As C.S. Lewis put it, each and every square inch in the universe is claimed and counter-claimed by the Lord and Satan. We know from Colossians that Christ’s death and resurrection were the death-knell of Satan’s kingdom. I personally would pay a good amount of money to see the look on our Enemy’s face at the exact moment when he realized that he'd lost everything.
But the Ascension made it official. Paul was praying for the Ephesians, and he specifically wanted them to know in a personal way the power of the Almighty in their daily lives In describing this power he said “[this] power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he 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. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” All power. All authority. The names of Presidents, kings, and dictators are all under the authority of that Name. They’re all under his feet. And it started at this point, when the Father invited his Son to "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
And finally, the Ascension is a reminder and a pattern of his return. That’s the point the angels were making at the actual point of departure, right? "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." It’s a great “tension” verse. Right now, at this very moment, we have work to do, and we shouldn’t spend a lot of time “looking into the sky.” But at the same time, his Ascension—and all it represents—should encourage us to keep at it. Don’t give up, please.
Lord Jesus, you're deserving of all praise, honor, glory, and especially obedience. The same power that raised you from the dead now lives within me. By your grace, I want to see it in action.
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