The Ascension of the Lord
(The Exaltation of Jesus)
The Nature of the Ascension
The ascension of our Lord Jesus is well attested in the New Testament. It describes Jesus' ascent upward into heaven after spending 40 days on the earth (John 20:17; Acts 1:3). The ascension is designed to provide an incentive to faith, courage, and a motivation to ministry.
For the purposes of our study, we are going to focus our attention on the account written by St. Luke in Acts 1:6-11.
First, we want to note the context in which the ascension occurred. This passage shows us there was concern and longing for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, and so there was the question about when. The Lord tells His disciples this was all in the Father’s sovereign plan and timing (vs. 7). In the meantime, they had the responsibility of representing the Lord to the world, a responsibility for which they would be adequately supplied by the power of the Holy Spirit once He had come to dwell in the church, the sacred body of Christ (vs. 8).
Immediately after this commission in verse 8, the ascension occurred. The Lord was lifted up by a cloud of glory out of their sight and taken into heaven. He was ascending to the right hand of the Father from whence He would send the Holy Spirit to empower them for ministry. There also He would sit to represent them providing access into God’s presence.
Let’s note the words used for Christ’s departure and what they teach us in brief.
Verse 9a tells us “He was lifted up.” This stresses that the ascension is upward and shows the Father was taking His Son up into heaven. The ascension was an act of exaltation and an affirmation of Christ’s person.
Verse 9 tells us “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Literally The Greek word the cloud “took under Him.” He appeared to be supported by the cloud.
This may have been like the cloud connected with the transfiguration, and which descended on the tabernacle in the wilderness and filled Solomon’s temple. Many believe it was the shekinah (ܫܟܝܢܬܐ) cloud, a symbol of the glory of God. In other word, it was a supernatural cloud, a symbol of the glorification of the Son. He was resuming His pre-incarnate glory--the glory He had before the incarnation.
Verse 10 describes the ascent by the words, “while He was departing.” This was a common word that meant to “go on a journey.” This suggests to us the ascension was a journey, not merely a disappearance.
Verse 11 describes the ascent by the words, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven.” This is probably best understood as the culmination or climax which describes His reception into heaven. It describes the final results of the ascension and declares the fact of Christ’s arrival in heaven. By the testimony of two angels from heaven we are told He had reached His destination.
Everywhere we turn in the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus declared to be in heaven at the right hand of the Father in the place of glory, power, authority, and provision for us.
The Ascension of the Lord into heaven is also known as the exaltation of Jesus. By the resurrection of the Lord, the humanity overcomes the death, and by the Ascension of the Lord, the humanity -through the body of our Lord- sat at the right hand of God the Father. The resurrection in general is for both: those who have done good, and those who have done evil. The Ascension: is only for those who are at the right hand side of God, which means those who have done good only (Matthew 25:33).
Let us summarize the results of the bodily ascension of the Lord.
1) It ended Christ’s humiliation and self-limitation (John 6:62; Phil. 2:5-11). Even though the Lord still possessed a glorified human body, through the ascension, the Lord assumed all of His former glory and authority as God.
2) It ended His public ministry of words and works (John 17:4-11). The ascension concluded His prophetic ministry and miracles accomplished by His bodily presence on earth. His prophetic ministry and miracles would continue for a while, but only through the lives and ministry of the Apostles (His Church).
3) It ended His redemptive work (Heb. 1:3; 10:12). The ascension declared His work on the cross was finished. It demonstrated that there was nothing more that could be done for our sin and that He and He alone had accomplished our redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).
4) It ended the Old Testament Covenant and declares the New Covenant to be better and in force (Heb. 8:7-13; 9:11-15, 23-10:1). The ascension declared that the old Mosaic Covenant was no longer valid, that it was only a temporary covenant until the Messiah-Savior could come.
5) It affirmed Christ as the God-Man (John 6:62). The ascension, like the resurrection, would prove His divine origin. By His ascension Jesus approved of His original Godhood.
6) It affirmed Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King.
a. As prophet; In John 3:13 our Lord shows Nicodemus He has the right and ability to explain and reveal heavenly truth because He is the true prophet, the One who came from heaven and Who, following His finished work on the cross, would return--the proof that He had truly come from God.
b. As priest; Jesus’ ascension and return to the Father would demonstrate that He had successfully, as our great and righteous High Priest, offered the sacrifice that effectively deals with man’s sin and provides justification--righteousness with God. (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:11-12; John 16:10)
c. As King; In answer to who He was, Christ again made reference to His ascended and exalted position at God’s right hand, only now in connection with His second coming from that ascended and exalted position as King of kings. (Matt. 26:64.)
7) The Ascension of the Lord, affirmed His exaltation which means:
a. His Glorification: It meant a return to His pre-incarnate glory, but it also constituted a glorification of His humanity where He is the Forerunner of all believers who will follow. (John 17:5; Acts 7:55; Rev. 1:12-16)
b. His Session: It declared that He was in heaven, at God’s right hand, the place of the highest honor and authority. It means all glory, authority and power is shared by the Father with the Son. (Eph.1:20-23; Phil. 2:9; Heb.1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22).
c. His Intercession and Protection over His own:
It affirms His continuing ministry for us at God’s right hand: kept by His presence with the Father and His work as High Priest. In this regard, it declares we have an advocate with the Father and a compassionate High Priest, one who cares for us with the greatest compassion and who both intercedes for us when we sin and prays to the Father for us in our need (John 17:11; Rom. 8:32; Heb. 4:14-16).
d. His Provision for spiritual power: It provided the means of His gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
e. His Distribution: It affirmed His right to give gifts to His church (Eph. 4:7-11).
f. His Preparation: It affirms His promise to prepare a home for His bride, the Church. When we lose a loved one who knows the Lord, one of the great comforts is the fact that our loved one has actually gone home and that we will someday be joining them (John 14:3,4).
g. Commission: By His commission I am referring to His earthly ministry and that He intends to continue this through His church. (Matt. 28:19; Luke 24:44; John 12:32; 14:12; 17:11-23; Mark 16:19-20).
Because of what the ascension means, it demands a response from us to the person and work of Christ. (John 6:62) We should not fail to understand the truth of Christ as the Bread of Life in Holy Communion, as the source of our spiritual nourishment and life through feeding on Him by faith and study His word. For the Lord challenged His audience (and challenges us) with these words: “What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?”
The ascension provides every reason why we should endure and be bold in service for the Lord knowing that our labor is never in vain in the Lord. (Mat. 28:19; Heb. 12:1,2).
The ascension anticipates the establishment of His kingdom and the fact that we will have the privilege of reigning with Him in His eternal kingdom of the new heavens and earth. (John 14:28; 16:16; Acts. 1:11; Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:13; Rev. 5:1-11.)
Remember, that this same Jesus Who has gone up to heaven, will so come in like manner as He was seen going up into heaven. His return is certain, may the Lord bless you, and grant you a share in His ascension. Amen