After celebrating the cross on Good Friday and the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, Christians look forward to Ascension Day on the fortieth day of the Easter season. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn called “Ascension Day” to celebrate the heavenly reception of the Son:
There the pompous triumph waits:
Lift your heads, eternal gaits,
Wide unfold the radiant scene;
Take the King of glory in!
Here are nine things you should know about Christ’s ascension (with questions for reflection and application).
1. The Ascension is a Key Part of the Gospel
After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples for forty days and taught them about the kingdom (Acts 1:3). Only then was he “taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19, cf. Mt. 28:16). In the two-part narrative of Luke-Acts, the ascension serves as a bridge or hinge. In Luke 24:51, Jesus is taken up while blessing his disciples; in Acts 1:6-11, the account is repeated in detail as the precursor to Pentecost.
In each of the Gospels, “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Lk. 4:43) includes the king taking his throne.
Does the ascension fit into your understanding of the gospel? If not, could it be that you need to put the kingdom back into the gospel of the kingdom?
2. The Ascension is the High Point in Christ’s Exaltation
Christ’s going up in the ascension corresponds to his going down in the incarnation. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” then went as low as one can go: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php. 2:7-8).
On the third day, “up from the grave, he arose.” The one who came down also went up and continued going up until he sat down: the final sign that he accomplished his earthly mission. Christ’s ascension is thus the high point in his exaltation. “He who descended,” says Paul, “also ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:8-10).
The hymn on Christ’s descent and ascent in Philippians 2 begins this way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” We are supposed to think this way: the path to honor with God is humility. Jesus said that the one who wants to be greatest in the kingdom must become the servant of all.
Are you the servant of all? Have you humbled yourself and trusted God to exalt you, or are you trying to find your own path to exaltation and success?
3. The Ascension Means that Jesus’s Sovereign Presence Permeates Creation
In Ephesians 4:8-10, Paul writes that Christ “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” The Savior who rose now reigns on high that “he might fill all things” as king over the creation which he has reconciled to heaven by his blood (Col. 1:20). Ephesians 1:20-23 says that God has
seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The entire universe is permeated by his divine presence. Do you live as in the presence of Jesus? Are you conscious of his constant, watchful presence? Or, to put it another way, do you live in the fear of the Lord Jesus?
4. The Ascension Means that Christ’s Eschatological Reign Has Begun
1 Peter 3:22 says that Christ “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” Jesus has already begun his reign over the kingdom, so we should seek first the kingdom of God by living under his reign. Since Jesus is “up there,” it changes the way we live “down here.”
Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Are you serving the risen and exalted king — or are you living for earthly things?
5. The Ascension Means that King Jesus is Returning Soon to Destroy His Enemies
When Jesus ascended on the Mount of Olives, the angels told his disciples that he would come back in the same manner as they saw him leave. Jesus will return bodily. Remember the Apostle’s Creed: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
The king will soon return to judge the living and the dead: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1).
Are you already in submission to the king and ready for him to return, or will you be counted among the enemies that he destroys when he comes the second time?
6. The Ascension Means that Jesus Exalted Our Humanity, Making a Way to Heaven
The ascension is good news for sinners. Hebrews 1:3 says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I. H. Marshall says, “The exaltation of Christ, or rather his entry to heaven, is an essential part of the saving event.” Christ went “into heaven to offer his sacrifice to God to make full and final atonement for human sin.”
Having atoned for human nature by dying on the cross as our substitute, he then exalted our humanity by taking it to heaven. Being united to him through his Spirit, Paul can say that God has already “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
If Christ has ascended, those who are in him, united to him by faith, will rise also. “For by placing in heaven the human nature which He assumed,” writes Thomas Aquinas, “Christ gave us the hope of going thither.” Our hope of going to heaven is that Jesus is already there and, if we have faith in him, we are united to him.
Do you place your hope of heaven in Christ alone? Do you look to Jesus as the only way to dwell eternally with God?
7. The Ascension Means that Jesus Now Serves as Our High Priest and Mediator
As the God-man in heaven, Christ is uniquely qualified to serve as the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Heb. 2:17). The ascended Christ is king and priest after the order of Melchizedek. In times of trouble, we look on high and know that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1).
In heaven, Christ fulfills his covenant offices so that we may be saved to the uttermost: “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (Heb. 8:1-2)
As we come to him, we “are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).” “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15).
If you sin, do you immediately look to Jesus your mediator for forgiveness? Do you offer praise to God every day through Jesus?
8. The Ascension Means that Jesus Now Sends His Spirit to Rest Upon Us
Our assurance of the ascension comes at Pentecost. We know that Jesus has taken his seat beside the Father because he poured out the Spirit as he said (Jn. 16:17). In the ascension, we see Jesus as the greater Elijah who is taken up into heaven and sends his Spirit with fire to rest upon his disciples in power (2 Kings 2:1–18).
Christ is present with us through the selfsame Spirit who seals to our hearts all of the covenant blessings which he now mediates.
Are you living in the fulness of Christ’s Spirit? Does his Spirit have full control of your life?
9. The Ascension Means that Christ’s Disciples Should Seek the Things That Are Above
Colossians 3 is a key passage on holiness; it begins with the ascension. Because of the ascension, we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Because Christ has ascended to heaven, it is only right that we should “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). To direct our hearts heavenward is one of three reasons given by Aquinas for why it was fitting that Christ should ascend.
Jesus ascended to heaven; if he is your treasure, then your heart should not be set on earth. It’s like this: If my wife and child went to England, and they expected me to join them there soon, I might say, “My heart is in England.” My family would expect me to save my money to buy a house there. But if I spent most of my time thinking about America and investing here, they might begin to question my love. They might wonder if I had forgotten about my family who went away.
Christ went to heaven, so that’s where our affections should be. If we’re investing in our own little earthly kingdom, we need to check our hearts. We should be living for a heavenly kingdom.
Are you seeking the things that are above and living a holy life that is pleasing to Jesus in every way? Have you put off your old life with its sinful habits and put on a new life that is renewed in the image of Christ?
Someday soon, Jesus will return and he will bring heaven to earth. Heaven and earth will become one and only those who have sought first the kingdom of heaven will be rewarded.