Read Luke 24:50-51; Ephesians 1:15-23
I am not very good at maths. I worked out that 40 days after Easter Sunday took us to last Friday but I saw in my calendar that last Thursday was Ascension Day.
Jesus appeared to the disciples for forty days after His resurrection. Then one day, on the Mount of Olives, near Bethany, He lifted up His hands and blessed them and was taken up into heaven.
There is a church on the Mount of Olives that celebrates the ascension. Inside is a slab of stone that has an impression in it that is said to be the footprint of Jesus, made at the moment of His ascension into heaven. The Bible does not say anything about Him leaving a footprint so I am a little sceptical.
Actually, the Bible say remarkably little about the ascension. There are only three descriptions – in Mark, Luke and Acts – and they are very brief. It must have been an amazing experience for the disciples. Imagine seeing Jesus rising off the ground like a rocket (although maybe with less fire and noise) and disappearing into the clouds. What sort of person does that? It must have been amazing but they do not dwell on it – although, apparently, eleven other New Testament books do refer to it.
In Acts, Luke says He was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They stood looking intently into the sky – possibly shocked and confused; possibly wondering if He was going to come down again. I don’t know. While they were staring, two men in white (presumably angels) stood beside them. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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 other places, we read that Jesus sits enthroned at the right hand side of God. We read from Ephesians that the power of God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God, in heaven, far above every other power and authority. God places everything under Jesus’ feet. And God appointed Him head over everything – for the church.
It is an absolutely wonderful event. The King returned home, victorious. It is a celebration and a vindication that Jesus had fulfilled His earthly ministry. It was an enthronement – a coronation. I wonder what it was like when Jesus re-entered heaven. Do you think there were crowds of angels lining the way cheering and worshipping with all their might?
He had done it! He had died and saved the world. He had defeated Satan. Ephesians 4 says that when He ascended He took many captives. His re-entry into heaven was a victory parade.
What is the significance of this event?
- Jesus’ earthly ministry was over. This was the end.
For forty days, Jesus appeared to the disciples. He appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared. Imagine if He disappeared one time and the disciples didn’t know if He was going to appear again. They would be hoping but uncertain and possibly disappointed if He didn’t. This event left them in no doubt. This was the end.
Jesus had come from heaven in an extraordinary way – born to a virgin. He spent 33 years on earth. But that was only going to last so long. At the end, He left in an extraordinary way. It was over. He had done everything asked of Him. Now, as He had made abundantly clear, it was up to them.
2. It was a massive vindication
Imagine if, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had decided not to go to the cross. He didn’t want to. He prayed for permission not to: “Take this cup from me”. What if He had said, “I cannot do it!” What would have happened if He had opted out of His mission? Would He have lived a boring, irrelevant life somewhere and died of old age? There would have been no victorious entry into heaven.
Or imagine if God had said, “OK, come back home.” Imagine if God had taken Him back to heaven but as a failure. Do you think Jesus might have slunk back in by a backdoor somewhere to avoid the embarrassment. Would He had had to stay out of sight for the rest of eternity because He had failed?
It was precisely because He had walked the path of obedience all the way to death that He was exalted.
Phil 2:5-11 Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
He was obedient to death, therefore God exalted Him to the highest place. Because of His obedience, God exalted Him. His exaltation is His vindication. He did it!
Those verses speak of a great descent. Jesus started having the very nature of God but he gave it up and became a human, a servant. He humbled Himself and descended to the horror of the cross and death. But because of His complete obedience, God lifted Him up again, took Him into heaven; seated Him in the highest place with the name that is above every other name. Every knee will bow before Jesus. Every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
He has returned to His rightful place and to the glory and honour that are rightfully His, because He did all that was asked of Him.
3. It reveals who Jesus is
He is Lord. He sits on a throne. He rules of all of creation. He is a King – King of all kings.
He is not only the King; He is God. He had said that He was God. Of course. He was accused of blaspheme for making such a claim. That was partly what got Him killed. But, you know what? Here He is enthroned in heaven alongside His Father receiving the worship of all creation.
“While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They worshipped Him. It is fundamental to Judaism that you worship God alone. The disciples immediate response to seeing Jesus taken into heaven was to worship Him, acknowledging Him to be God.
There are many pictures in the Bible of Jesus, in heaven, being worshipped – most notably in Revelation.
Revelation 5:11-14 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
When Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” it was true. “Therefore, go and make disciples.”
Ephesians 1:22 said that God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. It does not say that He reigns over the church, although that is true. But He reigns for the church. I don’t know what that means but Jesus reigns for our sake.
We know that Jesus is still active. We are told that He is interceding for us; He is praying for us (Rom 8:34). Isn’t that wonderful? We are told that He is advocating before God for us (1 Jn 2:1). Amazing!
4. It signals the believer’s future
All of those who have trusted and served Jesus will also be taken into heaven. Jesus has gone before us. He is preparing a place for us (John 14:2).
5. The disciples were on their own
This was the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was over. Jesus had left. It was up to them. All of this time, they had been the apprentices. Jesus was the Master. Now they were to take over. He would not be there.
Do you think they might have been scared, despite all of the training they would had had? Do you think they might have felt completely inadequate and helpless?
6. Jesus’ ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come.
John 16:7 But 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.
How could life without Jesus possibly be better than life with Jesus? But, according to Jesus, they would be better off accompanied and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They might have felt abandoned but their abandonment would soon end and they be even better off. (See also John 7:39)
God had promised the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said they would receive Him in a few days. But there was also the waiting. There was also the next ten-day period between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
7. Jesus’ ascension signals His return
He will return in the same way you have seen Him go. This phase will also end. Jesus will return and will establish His Kingdom.
How do we respond?
A very obvious response in the scriptures is worship. Jesus is the Lamb upon the throne – the Lamb who died, now exalted. The disciples worshipped. All of heaven worships.
The other response of the disciples was obedience. They started the mission they had been given. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit. They could not do it without Him. But, after Pentecost, they immediately got on with talking about Jesus and making disciples. May we also be obedient to the King.
The third appropriate response is expectation. He will come back in the same way that they saw Him going. We can have every expectation that Jesus will return and those who have worshipped and served will spend eternity with Him. Worship, obedience and hope.