One of the most neglected central articles of the faith as laid out in the Apostle’s Creed and others like it, is the doctrine of the Ascension. We confess it: “I believe…he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” We celebrate Jesus’ coming at Advent, Jesus’ birth at Christmas, Jesus’ life and ministry during Lent, Jesus’ passion during Holy Week, Jesus’ death on Good Friday, and Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, but what of the Ascension? Why doesn’t the Ascension get a Sunday or a special service like all the others? Does this mean it is not actually that important? That we can take it or leave it without any real impact to the overall reality of our faith? What does the Ascension mean anyway?
The event of the Ascension
The New Testament records that after Jesus’ resurrection (Easter Sunday), he stuck around for 40 days and appeared to his disciples (actually, over 500 of them) many times. Then after 40 days “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The Bible teaches that he was “taken into heaven” and will eventually “return in the same way you have seen him go.” (Acts 1:10-11; see also Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51)
40 days after Easter always lands on a Thursday. This year that day is May 25th
Implications of the Ascension: What do we say when we say that we believe in the Ascension?
- The incarnation continues. Jesus is still human. What? Yes, you heard me right. Jesus takes his humanity with him into the presence of God. When he takes his humanity, he takes us as well. (Jn 16:28; Jn 20:17; Jn 14:2-4)
- The at-one-ment of God and humanity is accomplished. The Bible says Jesus is “seated” at the right hand of God. One meaning of him being seated means his work is done. What was Jesus’ primary work? His primary work was to offer a perfect human life of faithfulness, love, and trust to the Father. From Bethlehem to Calvary Jesus did that, and now that perfect life, that life of at-one-ment with God is firmly and securely seated with God. On one level, nothing more needs to be done. “It is finished.” (Heb 10:10-14; Rom 4:25-5:1; 2 Cor 5:18-21)
- Your life and mine is secure. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus’ ascension as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). Jesus has offered the perfect human life, once and for all. Jesus has answered the Father’s call for a perfect covenant partner, once and for all. He did this for all humanity – you, me, and your neighbor who doesn’t believe in God. Forgiveness is accomplished. Seated.
- Jesus continues to pray for us. Through Jesus we have continual access to the Father. We have a place at the family table. (1 John 2:1; Heb 7:25; Heb 8:1; Jn 14:13-14; Heb 4:15-16).
- Jesus reigns. Jesus is not in a lazy-boy chair or a hammock. He is seated on a throne, but he is still actively working. From that place of security and accomplishment he rules and reigns, he prays and blesses, he shares his mind and heart. With his Father he continues to love the world. (Rom 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22; Eph 1:20-23; Heb 1:3; Rev 5:6-13) We are invited and called to participate in his ongoing kingdom work (Mt 6:10).
- Jesus sends his Spirit (from Pentecost onward) to do in you and I (and hopefully, in your neighbor who doesn’t believe in God) what he did in Jesus. The Spirit is sent so that we can personally share in, participate in, have communion with, this new humanity which is in Jesus. (Luke 24:49; Jn 14:16; 2 Cor 3:18) If we reject Jesus and the Spirit, we tragically miss out, but someone’s rejection does not undo the fact that all are implicated and included in what Christ has done.
- We are privileged daily to participate in this new reality. We can rejoice in it. We can bear witness to it – that our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3; 1 Cor 15:58).
Let us no longer neglect this central article of our faith. Better yet, let it be daily nourishment for your soul. We are safe, we are not alone, we are accompanied, we are empowered…because Jesus is ascended to the right hand of the Father.