We celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Easter. We celebrate Good Friday. We celebrate the important events of the life of Christ. Why don’t we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus? Certainly the Ascension is as important as the Incarnation. I contend that our ignorance of the Ascension has adversely affected our theology, especially our eschatology.
The Ascension is recorded in Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-12. See post on Acts 1:1-11.
Part of our prejudice toward the Ascension is that we regard it as only a physical movement of Jesus into heaven. The incarnation is the physical movement of Jesus to the earth, but additionally, actually primarily, we ascribe theological meaning to the Incarnation. We do not afford the Ascension the same privilege. So it is relegated to any other physical movement of Jesus, say his travels from Galilee to Jerusalem. This is a major mistake for our theology.
The doctrine of the Ascension has its roots in the military movements of the Old Testament culture and the priestly movements approaching the temple for worship (Exodus 34:24). The Psalms of Ascent are found from Psalm 120 – 134, these are possibly the hymns sung in approach to the temple and the temple mount.
But the real foundation of the doctrine of the Ascension is found in Psalm 110:1: “the Lord said to my Lord; Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
Here are some passages of Scripture for your own study of the Ascension: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11; John 6:62; 14:2, 12; 16:5, 10, 10, 17, 28; 17:5; 20:17; Ephesians 1:20; 4:8-10; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 4:14; 9:24.
Here are some important elements of the doctrine:
- It is the capstone of the resurrection. We believe that the resurrection affirms the work of Christ on the cross, it is God’s stamp of approval on what Christ has done. In like manner, the ascension cumulatively continues this affirmation, and elevates Christ to His appropriate place of adoration.
- It shows that the kingdom of Christ is a universal kingdom and not simply the kingdom of the Jews. He ascends and takes the eternal throne of David, and its realm includes the heavens and the earth. The kingdom is an eternal one, never to end, and Christ will not be replaced or superseded.
- In his work as King he sends the Spirit by whom He rules and guides and protects his Church.
- It points the believer to the true nature of the kingdom, and the true focus of his attention. Now the mistake that is made in most eschatalogical systems is the missing of this very point. The kingdom of Christ extends to the earth, even now, as we express and obey the gospel. So it puts our proper focus on the life which we have here and now, a new creation in us. It pushes us back to the original mandate of the book of Genesis, to subdue and fill the earth. The focus of our work is the work of redemption and the sharing of life. Here and now. Many, who still see major kingdom work left for Christ to accomplish, adopt a pessimistic view of the world and church – hence tend to be inappropriately “other-worldly”.
- It includes his work of mediation and intercession for us.
- It is expressed in the squashing of his enemies. In this sense it would include his judging activity in the events surrounding AD 70.
- It will culminate in total justice.
- It is included in however you define the “second coming” of Christ. The Second Coming is considered a part of the exaltation of Christ, which is a subset of the Ascension of Christ.
I will expand on these ideas in future posts.