Thursday, July 18, 2002

The Ascension

Craig Schwarze had an interesting post on the Incarnation and the death of Christ. (The link wasn’t working when I checked, but you can go to his main page and scroll down to the July 14 post “Did God Die on the Cross?”. It got me thinking about other Christian essentials that do not receive much treatment. In my experience I do not think I ever heard a sermon devoted to the Ascension of Christ.

We read in Luke’s gospel:

50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53, NASB)

And in the book of Acts:
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-11, NASB)

Why didn’t Christ just vanish? Why the spectacular exit? In the passage from Acts we learn that Jesus will come (back) in the same way that he was seen to leave: in a cloud. So part of the reason for the “grandness” of the exit might be to give focus on His return in glory-- His parousia.

Or, or perhaps additionally, His grand exit from earth may have been a grand entrance into heaven as part of His coronation ceremony. He now assumes his position at the right hand of the Father and His role of King of Kings and supreme judge of all mankind. From there He also sent forth the Spirit in His role as comforter to the believers on earth.

I think that sometimes we think that Christ “just returned” to heaven and resumed heaven ly business as usual. But, having successfully completed His work, Christ returned to heaven with a new mandate and new authority to judge the nations. And yet he also intercedes for us in His additional duty of High Priest. Our final judge, from whose judgment there will be no appeal, is also our defense lawyer. Not a bad deal. It is indeed far better for us that He returned rather than remained on earth.

The Ascension should not be overlooked. It is a critical event in redemptive history, to be surpassed in majesty only by Christ’s return.

Ascended from Whence?

One scriptural reference to the Ascension may be the source of a dispute among Christians:
8 Therefore it says,
9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?
(Eph. 4:8-9, NASB)

Those who believe Jesus descended into hell offer the phrase of “the lower parts of earth” as supporting scripture. This belief (for which I have some sympathy) made it into the Apostle’s creed.

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