THE TRIUMPHANT ASCENSION
(Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:1-11; Hebrews 9:1-14; 24-28)
By Thomas Cosmades
Religions relish their sacred sites and objects. The holiest location of Christ’s believers is heaven itself. It is not Jerusalem. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. Though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer” (II Corinthians 5:16). Our beloved Savior and exalted High Priest is in heaven (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16; 6:20; 7:26-27; 8:1; 9:11; 10:21). Thirteen times in Revelation he is introduced as the Lamb seated on the throne in heaven (cf. 4:2, 3, 6, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 20:11; 21:5). Once he is the Lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures (5:6). He is God’s Lamb who accomplished on earth the perfect salvation in his own body by pouring out his blood. His vicarious atonement is total and final. He now lives to make intercession for men and women (cf. Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34b).
The glory of the
Incarnation and Redemption fixes our eyes on the Savior’s Ascension. Today
he is in a different involvement than in his pre-incarnate state. In
Revelation, the gleaming ascension of Christ is treated as the climax of the
ultimate fulfillment of his ministry. It is to be lamented that the
remembrance of this crowning chapter goes unnoticed in most of the
evangelical churches or in individual remembrances. How many pulpits
consider this glowing event on the Sunday that follows Ascension Thursday,
joyfully looking into its different phases? That victorious occasion
constitutes a vital connection between the life of Christ and the life of
the Church. It is the penultimate instance of salvation history on one
hand, and the Church’s inaugural spur on the other. This important day in
the church calendar is warranty of the believer’s immortality and Christ’s
return to his eternal domain for him/her as he foretold it (cf. John 14:3).
It addresses in an applicable way the quandaries surrounding particularly
the church: rejection, intrusion, persecution, wantonness, terrorism,
warfare, hunger, diseases, and natural disasters, ad infinitum. The church
should authoritatively remind this unbelieving world about him who ascended
to the highest and is laying his plan for its re-creation and
reconstruction. The stupendous word is ‘apokatastasis’: universal
restoration (cf. Acts 3:21).
The Jews revered their temple with its holy of holies where the high priest alone could enter once a year with the blood of the animal for his own and his people’s sin. The Babylonians destroyed this earthly temple (586 BC), depriving the people of offering sacrifices. It was rebuilt by Ezra, then destroyed by the Antiochians, and following them the Romans, terminating sacrificial religion for good. Following his ascension, Jesus Christ appeared in heaven as our efficacious high priest (cf. Hebrews 9:11). This way he entered the holiest of all religious settings to intercede for anyone who would believe and approach him --- people of all ages, races, tongues, creeds and gender. The ascension marks the importance of Christ’s past, present and future appearances (cf. Hebrews 9:24, 26, 28).
I. CHRIST NOW APPEARS IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD (Hebrews 9:24)
Heaven’s multitude of hosts exultantly welcomed the triumphant Lion of the Tribe of Judah to his eternal glory. His conquest over the merciless dominion of the arch-enemy Satan is now absolute. Our Savior and High Priest presently carries a superlative ministry of unceasing intercession before the Father. Sin torments all people, no matter what their religion or vocation is. Sinners everywhere distressed with one and the same burden redundantly race to holy sites, rivers, washings, shrines, special celebrations, holy men, priests, fastings, bodily torments, good deeds, Satan-stonings, and other endless discharges without ever reaching the absolute certainty of forgiveness and justification. We are accountable not to relegate these multitudes to disinterest and neglect. Knowing well the availability of an effectual mediator, we pain for all who grope in darkness. They continually resort to repetitious, unproductive methods for the solution of their sin and guilt problem (cf. Hebrews 11:6). People ran to Joseph to obtain grain at all costs. Those who shrugged off the accessible provision had only themselves to blame. Egypt’s gates were open to all. Joseph didn’t send emissaries to surrounding countries to plead with them to come to him for grain; the initiative fell on them.
Against this background, we see the One who offers the bountiful Bread of Life to everyone. Those who reject this inexhaustible supply will be judged by none other than the Supplier himself. Joseph had no argument against those who spurned the opportunity awaiting them in Egypt. But here we are encountering an entirely different case. “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Rejecting such a tender-hearted and gracious offer will lead to judgment by him whose mediatory offer is slighted. Only an irrational individual will turn down the services of a competent advocate in his hour of need. The offer of a mediator can only be rejected at one’s own peril.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the high-priestly ministry of Christ in heaven repeatedly draws our attention — nine or ten times. Christ’s believer persuaded of his/her Lord’s ascension to heaven ought to give due consideration to such an august climax of his overall ministry. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). “…which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit 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…” (cf. Ephesians 1:20, 21). The reminder in these passages ought to spur the believer on to full allegience to Christ. The triumphant Savior is sitting on his throne in heaven waiting for the proper time ‘to make all his enemies his footstool’ (cf. Psalm 110:1).
The mighty Ruler of heaven and earth who was debased to the lowest insignificance is exalted to highest eminence. His believers world-wide who are subjected to horrendous ordeals and onslaughts can live with concrete and tangible hope in their ascended Lord. Atheistic existentialism disparages the concept of ‘hope’. The Christian with his/her Savior in the highest realms enjoys hope in its superlative context. It is worthwhile to make a study of the fifty-two references to ‘hope’ in the NT. Once it is mentioned as ‘better hope’ (Hebrews 7:19). We wish to extend our loving invitation to existentialists and others everywhere to embrace this ‘better hope,’ freely provided by Christ. Such hope is already being translated daily into reality in the lives of millions.
II. CHRIST HAS APPEARED TO PUT AWAY SIN (Hebrews 9:26)
The captivating aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation transform the believer’s cosmos. The person genuinely committed to this reality can enjoy a course of life unlike all others. In ancient Greece men took the form of gods who sometimes imposed demands on their subjects. Exactly the reverse is true in God’s agenda. Here God became Man, offering his race unimaginable benefits “…he was manifested in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16). We grieve profoundly for our fellow humans in this wide world who have jettisoned this enriching, life-transforming reality of the Incarnation. The writer to the Hebrews explains why Christ was manifested in the flesh at the apex of history: “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (cf. Hebrews 9:26, 12; 10:10, 14).
At Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem’s manger as a human baby, an angel appeared; God’s glory shone around the shepherds; a multitude of the heavenly hosts praised God; wise men outside of Israel’s community came to behold him; Simeon, the aged dweller in Jerusalem, uttered a profound word of prophecy; old Anna, a Hebrew prophetess from Asher’s tribe, gave thanks to God for this extraordinary baby. She spoke prophetically of God’s redeeming expression. Herod, an earthly potentate, was filled with trepidation. Until now, there are those rejoicing over Christ’s manifestation in the flesh. On the other hand, those unhappy with his name seek ways to suppress his importance and relegate him to irrelevance. “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (I John 3:5). Those who make the connection of this appearance to their forlorn condition receive adoption as sons and daughters by faith (cf. Galatians 4:4-7). This way they need no longer roam over earth’s desert as orphans. The Ascended Christ has opened the curtain for mortal men and women to view at least in part the majesty of the hitherto unknown heaven. Those who see this sublime glory joyfully sing endless praises to him:
“Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son, Endless is the vict’ry Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded graveclothes, where Thy body lay.
Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son, Endless is the vict’ry Thou o’er death hast won.
(Edmund Budry, 1854 -1932)
III. CHRIST WILL APPEAR TO THOSE WAITING FOR HIM (Hebrews 9:28)
The appellation Pantocrator (Almighty) appears nine times in Revelation and once in II Corinthians 6:16. A host of potentates appeared like a flash on the stage of history and disappeared like a flush. They assumed temporary glory, and the remembrance of some continues to draw a variety of repugnant and detestable designations. Space and decency does not allow mentioning these. Such epithets, at times blasphemous, celebrating the procession of mortals are repulsive to the believer whose heart and mind are fixed on eternal values. To those of us who delight in using superlative appellations for our glorified Savior, mundane titles are a pretext of usurpation. To Christ alone every royal and legal right can be ascribed because he is the only one occupying the endless eons.
The eternal Logos appeared ‘full of grace and truth’ with the final salvation which he carried in his enfleshment (John 1:14). The awe-inspiring Pantocrator will again be manifested, armed with the final redemption (Romans 13:11; Philippians 3:20; Psalm 87). At his birth he appeared to deal with sin and offer free salvation to those who would apprehend it by faith. In his epiphany he will deliver those who eagerly wait for him to bring final salvation.
Christ fulfilled God’s eternal objective by making atonement for sinners and rescuing all those destined for reconciliation and ultimate glorification. The Incarnation is linked to redemption. The ascension is bound to his priestly manifestation in heaven. His brilliant epiphany heralds his universal domination. His feet left Mt. Olivet (cf. Acts 1:12; in Luke 24:50, Bethany, which is at the foot of the Mount). The same feet will touch the Mt. of Olives (cf. Zechariah 14:4) with phenomenal manifestations. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He alone will bring into order the universal disorderliness.
Peter who witnessed the ascension describes in irrefutable terms Christ’s epiphany and the reward he will bring: “And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4). Christ’s apostle also reminds the believers of their lost state from which they returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls (cf. I Peter 2:25). The unfading crown of glory is the valid anticipation of the Chief Shepherd’s sheep. During his trial by the Sanhedrin the high priest roared: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). Christ replied with authoritative composure: “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
The manifestation of the sovereign Christ could not even be discussed without his ascension (cf. Acts 1:11). Likewise, the descent of the Holy Spirit could not become a reality without the Lord’s ascension (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In our age, the ascended Christ is present where two or three meet in his name (cf. Matthew 18:20; I Corinthians 5:4b). The Lord’s Supper reminds us of his being presently in heaven with his Father. Until he comes we remember him in relation to his suffering (cf. I Corinthians 11:26). The beloved disciple John comes to every believer with a solemn admonition: “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (I John 3:3).Then we shall behold him in his power and glory. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).