Definition and Background
In Christianity, the ascension refers to Jesus’ ascension or return to heaven, 40 days after His resurrection (the 40th day after Easter).
During the 40 day lead up to the ascension, over 500 witnesses observed Jesus. He also continued teaching, particularly about what would happen next in regard to His plan. (1 Cor. 15:6, John 20:17, 20:26-29)
However, once the 40 days elapsed, Jesus concluded His time on earth and was “taken up,” “carried,” and “received” into heaven until a cloud took Him out of sight. (Acts. 1:9, Lk. 24:51, Mark 16:19)
The ascension took place near Mt. Olivet and Bethany where the Disciples, two angels and possibly others observed it. (Lk. 24:50, Acts 1:12) “The ascension happened. Its historical authenticity and subsequent significance for believers cannot be understated.”
After Jesus ascended the angels that were present told the observers that He would return the same way one day, thus setting forth the promise of Jesus’ second coming. (Acts 1:11)
Pentecost followed next and God’s plan transitioned into the Church Age, also known as the “last days.”
We are still living in this phase today, and will be until Jesus returns again to establish His eternal kingdom on earth.
The Bible, Apostolic Fathers, Church Fathers, and more all confirm Jesus’ ascension. As such, the ascension happened and its historical authenticity and subsequent significance for believers cannot be understated.
Yet, what is it about the ascension that makes it so important? For the rest of this lesson we’re going to explore some of the theology regarding the ascension of Jesus.
In so doing, readers will come away with a well-rounded and thankful appreciation for the doctrine.
The Completion of Jesus’ Earthly Mission
The ascension marked Jesus’ triumphant return to heaven through which He was fully glorified.
After He ascended He “sat on the right hand of God,” and He did so “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever.” (Mk. 16:19, Heb. 10:12)
Jesus’ earthly ministry and mission officially ended with His ascension. His return to heaven signified that He had overcome both His own death, and the death of all who would believe in Him for salvation from sin.
This was made possible only through one sacrifice; His death on the cross. This sacrifice was and is forever, for “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Moreover, His sacrifice enables those who believe in Him to be saved from eternal death. (1 Cor. 15:55) Additionally, we share in His victory over death and are “partakers” with Him in it. (Heb. 3:14)“His return to heaven signified that He had overcome both His own death, and the death of all who would believe in Him.”
When Jesus fulfilled His mission through His ascension, He began to reign as king and ruler in Heaven.
He did not only being His kingly reign however, He also began his role as Head of the Church. (Eph. 1:22)
The Church works by and through Him, and Christians, as members of His Church, are His body which He “nourishes” and “cherishes.” (Eph. 5:29-30)
Thus Jesus’ ascension established the age of the New Testament Church.
The Beginning of the “Last Days”
Jesus was and still is seated on the throne as our glorified king and ruler. (1 Peter 3:22) As such we are all inheritors of the Church Age or the “last days,” which will end when Jesus returns to earth at His second coming. (Heb. 1:2)
We know this because the angels told the witnesses at the ascension that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts. 1:11)“The “blessed hope” of Jesus’ return is the Christian’s call to action.”
Many often wonder though why Jesus had to return to heaven.
Why couldn’t He finish His work and set up His kingdom right then and there?
The reason is that there was and is still work to be done. His return is merely the end goal that we are all to work for and towards.
Until then, He has set up the time we are living in to be an age wherein He works through His Church to redeem as many as are in the world who will accept Him. We, as His children, are instrumental in that cause.
Ultimately, the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ return is the Christian’s call to action. (Tit. 2:13)
While we wait, we are to be spiritually active. We are to witness and serve others as we build up God’s Church and body before He returns. (Lk. 12:35-40)
We are also commanded to “watch” and be “ready” for His return, and to “hold fast” to the gifts He has given us. (Matt. 24:44, 25:13, Rev. 3:11)
Gone Yet Present
Some might ask, how are we to serve and build up Jesus’ church if He has ascended and left us alone?
As we have already seen, Jesus’ ascension was thoroughly thought out and planned. In fact, He had to return to heaven so that He could begin His role as our king and Head of the Church.
Additionally, He had to return so that the Holy Spirit could further His work. The truth is, He has not left us alone at all, for with Jesus’ ascent to heaven came the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth.
In fact, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit, also known as our “comforter,” to us in Jesus’ name. (Jn. 14:26)
This first took place in dramatic fashion just as Jesus said it would at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2.“With Jesus’ ascent to heaven came the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth.”
When the Holy Spirit first descended, He allowed the apostles to speak in tongues, or the native languages of those whom they came in contact with.
This enabled first generation Christians to spread the gospel throughout the known world.
Tongues were a specific gift of the Holy Spirit used for a transitional time in the life of the Church to fulfill Jesus’ promises regarding the establishment of His church.
As a result believers do not undergo any second Baptism of the Holy Spirit today, nor is the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in the believer related to any post-conversion experience.
Rather, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell in us when we first believe in Jesus, confess our sins to Him and ask Him to save us.
All believers are given the gift of the Holy Spirit when they first believe and it is the Holy Spirit that allows them to effectively serve to God and to continue to be sanctified (acting and thinking more like Christ) until they pass on to heaven. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
We therefore “live,” and “walk” in and are “sealed” by, the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:25, Eph. 1:13) What is more, the Spirit helps us produce good fruit (results) for God. (Gal. 5:22-23)
The Holy Spirit also serves a special role for us. He speaks to God on our behalf. He is our intercessor to Jesus who Himself also intercedes for us to God the Father from the right hand of the throne. (Rom. 8:34)
None of this would have been possible unless Jesus ascended into heaven.
We have seen that there is an overabundance of powerful and comforting theology contained in Jesus’ ascension.
It set forth His role as our king and as Head of the Church, and it solidified and finalized His sacrifice for the sins of mankind, thus completing His great mission to seek and to save the lost.“God’s plan and promises are inseparably linked to His ascension.”It ushered in the Church Age or the “last days,” while simultaneously setting forth the promise of His second coming.
It also allowed the Holy Spirit to come to indwell in and intercede for us; by which we are enabled to further help God save and redeem humanity.
Through it all, we can clearly see that God’s plan and promises are inseparably linked to His ascension.
The ascension laid the groundwork for everything that has happened since and that will happen until Jesus returns. It is merely one amazing part of God’s grand design to bring us back to Him.
While we wait to join Him in heaven or at His return should we be blessed enough to be of the generation that is alive when He returns, may we rest in the comfort of knowing that He is preparing a place for each of His children, so that we will also be with Him where He ascended to. (Jn. 14:3, 17:24)
Photo Credit: The Ascension: Leaf from a Book of Hours (4 of 6 Excised Leaves), c. 1420-30. Henri d’Orquevaulx (French), or Workshop. Ink, tempera, silver and gold on vellum. The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Jeanne Miles Blackburn Collection 2001.76.