ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT DAYS IN BIBLICAL HISTORY; SADLY OFTEN OVERLOOKED
“The Ascension of Christ”–
By Wayne Jackson
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation truth of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). For that reason, occasionally the “resurrection” narrative has overshadowed the “ascension” record. But the ascension event is of equal significance, and careful attention should be given to it.
A thousand years before the Savior’s birth, David prophesied the ascension of Jesus when he announced the Lord’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1). No other psalm is so frequently quoted in the New Testament – an indication of the importance of the event.
Though the disciples struggled with the concept of Jesus’ death, he told them plainly that he was going back to the Father (John 14:12). And, while on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, Jesus announced to the high priest that presently he would be “sitting at the right hand of Power” (Matthew 26:64). His “ascension” was one of the tests of Christ’s prophetic credibility.
Effected by God
Five times New Testament writers employ the Greek term analambano (to take up) of the Lord’s ascension (Mark 16:19; Acts 1:2,11,22; 1 Timothy 3:16). Each time the verb is in the passive voice, he “was taken up.” The passive voice represents the subject of the verb as being acted upon, thus, in this instance, indicating that the “taking up” was empowered from above, namely by God.
The ascension of Christ presents a problem for the opponents of Christianity. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, or if he somehow survived the ordeal of Calvary and died later (as Hugh Schonfield speculated in his infamous book, The Passover Plot), surely the Lord’s enemies would have vigorously sought to reclaim his body, thus nullifying the “resurrection” story. With such a “trophy,” Christianity could have been crushed in its infancy. Those efforts, however, if they occurred, were in vain. That lack of evidence indirectly supports the record of the ascension; there was no earthly corpse.
The apostles themselves witnessed the Savior’s ascension (Acts 1:9-11). Luke’s record of this event was under-girded by his careful research (Luke 1:3; 24:51), not to mention his guidance by the Spirit. Mark, who wrote under the tutelage of Peter (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.15), also took note of the ascension (Mark 16:19), and the event was taken for granted in the balance of the New Testament (Acts 2:33; Ephesians 4:8-10; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:22). At the time of his martyrdom, Stephen was permitted to actually see the ascended Christ, and petition him (Acts 7:55-60).
It is significant that Luke’s account of the ascension episode (Acts 1:9-11), consumes only 63 words in the Greek Testament. This brevity demonstrates:
the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit; strictly human journalistic impulses would have expanded the narrative considerably;
it suggests as well that the “ascension” event was never a point of controversy among the early disciples, thus requiring elaborate argumentation.
The Abiding Significance
There are several significant doctrinal points connected with the ascension of Christ. Let us consider some of these.
The ascension of the Savior is an integral part of the proposition that Christ is the “Lord,” who has the right to exercise “all authority” (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-23). On Pentecost, after arguing for the resurrection and ascension, Peter contended: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Especially note the “therefore” connective.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was implemented by the ascended Christ (Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5; 2:33). This supernatural event authenticated the fact that the circumstances of that day, resulting in the establishment of the church of Christ, were divinely orchestrated. The Christian regime is from God, not man.
The ascended Christ empowered certain early disciples with miraculous gifts, by which the Mind of God was revealed to humanity and subsequently preserved in a body of sacred literature (see Ephesians 4:10ff). The present availability of this ancient record allows the modern student to “put to the test” the credibility of the primitive documents, find them to be trustworthy, and happily anchor his hope of heaven therein.
The ascension of Christ into heaven clearly reveals that, contrary to Jewish expectations (and even that of the misguided disciples), the Lord’s mission to this planet was not to overthrow Rome, and establish an earthly, political administration reminiscent of David’s (cf. John 6:15; 18:36; Acts 1:6). In the words of a poet:
They were looking for a king,
To slay their foes,
And lift them high.
Thou camest a little baby thing,
That made a woman cry.
Modern millennialists would do well to learn this important truth.
The ascension of Christ demonstrated the manner of Christ’s final return. The disciples “beheld” Jesus vanishing into the clouds (Acts 1:11b). The verb theaomai is employed 24 times in the New Testament, and never is it used in a figurative sense. They literally saw Christ ascend. Additionally, Luke emphasizes that “in like manner,” i.e., in a visible fashion, the Lord will return. The combination of these terms clearly indicates that the Savior’s second coming will be a literal coming. This eliminates the spurious notion that Christ’s representative “coming” (via the Roman armies — Matthew 22:7), in the overthrow of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:30), was his second coming (cf. Heb. 9:28). And yet the advocates of “realized eschatology” contend otherwise. Luke’s language also eliminates the theory that the Lord’s next “coming” will be an invisible “rapture-coming,” as dispensationalists project.
The ascension of Jesus provides us with a supreme confidence that we have a heavenly High Priest who, having been “crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 1:13; 2:7,9), ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25; cf. 1 John 2:1-2). This concept of a heavenly high priest is a prevailing theme in the book of Hebrews.
The ascension argues for the proposition that our eternal destiny will not be upon a “glorified earth,” as many affirm. Jesus entered heaven as a “forerunner” (one who goes in advance of others) for us (Hebrews 7:20). By his return to heaven, Christ “dedicated for us” a new and living way that is not earthly in nature (Hebrews 10:20). Earth is not heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
The ascension of Christ underscores the fact that Christians are charged with the responsibility of implementing his will on earth, as he reigns from heaven. The Teacher’s parting words commissioned his people to make disciples of every creature among the nations throughout the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47).
In the Parable of the Pounds, the Nobleman (Christ), who went into the far country (heaven), expected his servants to wisely utilize, on his behalf, that which had been placed at their disposal. The servant who ignored this obligation was rejected and punished, along with those characterized as “enemies” (see Luke 19:12-27; cf. Matthew 25:30).
The Lord uses no “feet” to go, nor “tongues” to proclaim, save ours. The treasure has been deposited with “earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Let us, therefore, shoulder the responsibility, and be honored thereby.