Ascension Day or Holy Thursday is traditionally celebrated on the fortieth day following Easter (when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead). This year’s celebration on May 5th attempts to follow the account written down for us in Acts 1:3 describing the time after the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. Although some Christian churches have observed it on the following Sunday, Christians have everywhere agreed to the significance of this day. The following article attempts to outline what the ascension is and why is it important for our daily lives.
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 ascent of the risen Lord Jesus to the throne of authority at the right hand of God (Luke 24:13–51).
The ascension is an image from the ancient world’s royal ceremonies. The new king would enter into the throne room in 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?
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 (Psalms 24 and 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’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 king who shows his rule by dying. This was necessary for him to accomplish all righteousness and enter into 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.
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 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 (1 Cor. 2:6–10; Heb. 2:14–18).
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 into 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 rains this salvation upon us as a sign of the glory to come (Eph. 1:3–14 and 4:7–10).
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What does the Ascension mean for us today? 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 (Rev. 12:10).
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). 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. This is the God we have been waiting for!
The Ascension strikes at the heart of the way the world works. The logic of our age (“what goes around comes around”) is upended by grace. Since Jesus lived, died, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, grace and truth defeat the power of death (1 Cor. 15:56–57).
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 have to 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. How he does so is just as important as the fact that he did!
Jesus does not defeat death by getting even. He removes his glorious crown and descends 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. Satan’s power over us and in us is torn to pieces by this willing sacrifice of Christ!
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 according to karma or 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.
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). That is the power of the ascended Lord today.