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Acts

Ascension

Acts  1:9-11

With the possible exception of the Virgin Mary, I know of no topic which is more important - and less preached - than the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a high and holy event, one which greatly shows the glory of God. For all that it means, however, it seems to excite little comment from Protestant expositors. Catholic and Orthodox writers are a little more kind to it; but this seems largely to stem from the use of Ascension Sunday in the liturgical calendars.

The Ascension, however, is a most necessary event. It was included in all the ancient creeds (for reasons we shall see). It also appears that the neglect of the Ascension - and its results - are a sign of the times of the end.

Why is the Ascension so important to us? It is a demarcation point of history. From it we may see things past, present and future. It serves to limit the past, define the present and describe the future. So we shall see the Ascension in past tense, present tense and future tense.

(Acts 1:9-11 NIV) After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. {10} They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. {11} "Men of Galilee," they said, "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."

Ascension - Past Tense

The Ascension is a marker that certain things are finished. Christ has returned to the Father; therefore, the work of Christ is complete.

The atonement is complete

It is interesting to note that of all the cults that have arrived in the last two thousand years not one has presented another atonement. Satan can counterfeit revelations and prophecies; he can produces lists of laws for holiness - but he cannot do what Christ did, for it is finished. The atonement, the sacrifice for sins, is finished. If it were not, Christ would not have ascended.

Since the atonement is complete, we know that we have no work to do for our own salvation - it is God's free gift. That was the mission of Jesus: to seek and save the lost. That mission is completed. Now our mission - the Great Commission - has begun.

The ascension is proof of the Resurrection

The ascension is absolutely necessary in this regard. One of the oldest and most common heresies (even today) is that Jesus did not appear in the flesh - it was only an illusion. You will hear cults tell you that he left no footprints, for example. He was "only a spirit" they say. But tell me: if he is only a spirit, why the Ascension? A ghost - that's what a spirit is - can fade out any time. (By the way, can fade back in too). But a physical body must go somewhere.

Twice before (Elijah and Enoch) we have someone with a physical body who is taken up to heaven. (This is the reason some expect Elijah and Enoch to be the "two witnesses" of Revelation - they never died, and it "is appointed unto man once to die.") The ancient church was quite specific on this point: Iraneus, for example, tells us that he ascended "in the flesh."

The ascension marks the end of Christ's ministry

We see for the last time - until his return - the Shekinah, the glory of God, shown in the cloud. We have a last echo of the old Law, in that two angels (the testimony of two witnesses) tell the disciples of his return. There is a definite break point here. Without that break point, the disciples would have been thoroughly confused by the coming of the Spirit - for God is One.

Ascension - Present Tense

We may see things present in two ways: those things which Christ now does for us, and those things which the Spirit was sent to do.

Our Advocate

The letter to the Hebrews assures us that we have Christ as our advocate[1], our High Priest, at the right hand of the Father. Consider the implications: the Creator, God the Father, ruler of heaven and earth and all between, sits over all things. Who can appeal to him? Who can move him? Our advocate can. He is the High Priest for the Christian. A priest always serves as a bridge between God and man, and Christ is our bridge. He knows what it's like to be human, for he is human.

The inspiration of the Scriptures

Remember that nothing of the New Testament was written before the Ascension. Why? Because the Spirit had not come! We would not have the Bible we have today if Christ had not ascended.

The spread of the Gospel

Human beings are confined in geography. If Christ does not ascend, then his followers, necessarily, are confined to Palestine. If He does not ascend, the world would come to him, wherever he was - rather than the Gospel going out into the world. The result would inevitably be that many would not know him as Lord and Savior simply because they were born and lived in the wrong place. Would the disciples have willingly left their Master's side? I think not.

Our holiness in living

All Christians know the futility of self-reform. New Year's resolutions last about a week for most of us. How do we achieve "normal holiness" in our lives? By the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would not come unless Christ had departed. So we would not know the power of the Spirit if Jesus had not ascended.

Gifts of service

Interestingly, Paul tells us that the gifts of the Spirit in the church - appointing some to be apostles, others teachers, etc. - is somehow connected with the Ascension. It is connected with his Ascension in triumph - that as a conqueror, the conqueror of death - that he gives gifts to men. Those gifts are the works of service he outlines:

(Eph 4:7-12 NIV) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. {8} This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." {9} (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? {10} He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) {11} It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

 

Ascension: Future Tense

The most exciting aspect of the Ascension is simply this: it is the picture of the future. In the Ascension we can see these things which are to come.

Christ's return

In this passage the angels tell us that He will return in the same way he left. He is coming "with the clouds."[2] We know from other passages that this also means that he will return with the angels of God, and the cloud in question is most likely the Shekinah, the glory of God.

This is a great comfort. It destroys all of those statements which say that Christ has come invisibly (they saw him go, we'll see him return). It destroys those who say he returns spiritually; it destroys those who say his return will never happen. He left. He will return. He said so, and God cannot lie.

New Heaven and New Earth

Again, much beyond our comprehension, there is this. He is going to prepare a place for us, a place described as a "new heaven and a new earth." Peter assures us that the elements will melt with the heat of that day.[3] Do we know what this will look like? Most assuredly there are commentators on Revelation who can describe it in detail. Regrettably, however, they do not agree on the description. I will undertake no such description; but consider this: Has not the Lord been a magnificent creator in the existing earth and heavens? If He sees fit to recreate both, will it not be much more magnificent?

Judgment

From the earliest days of the Bible, in Job, the children of God have been told and expressed the idea that they would some day rise from the dead. Paul expresses it this way:

(1 Th 4:15-17 NIV) According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. {16} For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. {17} After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

A careful reading of all the Scriptures relating to this (well beyond the time required for a single lesson) would reveal this: not only are the righteous to rise, but all will rise - to face the judgment. How many resurrections? Do the wicked rise with the righteous? What about the people before the time of Christ? All these things some think they know - and disagree. But this much is certain: all will rise, and all will face the Risen Lord as Judge - some to hear "well done" and others to hear "depart."

Our bodies like his body

We are told that he is the "first fruits" of the Resurrection of the dead. In this we understand that upon resurrection we will have a body like that he has - a physical body, but possessed of powers beyond our understanding or knowing in this life. This body will be suited to the new heaven and new earth. What will it be like? How does this work? I don't know. It is entirely possible that the answer is beyond my comprehension. But I do know this: we shall be like him.

Scoffing in the Last Days

One last thing predicted about the Ascension is this: in the last days, men will scoff at the possibility of resurrection, denying the life to come.

(2 Pet 3:2-4 NIV) I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. {3} First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. {4} They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

This is a sign that the times are ripe, and surely this sign is upon us.

Conclusion

Because so little is placed upon the Ascension we forget that we are destined to live with him forever. Consider the times; consider the world around you; consider the world to come. Then consider how you should live:

(2 Pet 3:13-18 NIV) But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. {14} So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. {15} Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. {16} He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. {17} Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. {18} But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

[1] Hebrews 7:25

[2] Revelation 1:7

[3] 2 Peter 3:12-13

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