|Volume 17 Number 2 February 2015||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Comparatively speaking, the Bible treats the Ascension of Christ less often in its pages than several other Christian doctrines. Yet, many biblical passages are more or less dependent upon and imply the Ascension of Christ. Irrespective of the amount of space dedicated to the Ascension of our Lord in the Bible, it is a crucial and cardinal doctrine of Christianity. For instance, the Ascension of Jesus Christ enabled Him to act as Intercessor (Romans 8:34), Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and Advocate (1 John 2:1) for Christians before Almighty God. In addition, note: “The spiritual value of the Ascension lies, not in Christ’s physical remoteness, but in His spiritual nearness. He is free from earthly limitations, and His life above is the promise and guarantee of ours” (ISBE).
The Ascension Defined
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is “…his visible passing from earth to heaven in the presence of his disciples, on the Mount of Olives, forty days after the resurrection…” (McClintock and Strong). Three accounts of the occurrence of the Ascension appear in the New Testament. “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 NKJV). “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. (Acts 1:9-12)
The Incarnation through the Virgin Birth was the mechanism by which Jesus Christ came to earth. Conversely, the Ascension was the instrument by which Jesus Christ transferred from this terrestrial sphere to the celestial realm.
There is just not much information in the New Testament respecting the activity of the Ascension. While conversing with His apostles atop Mount Olivet, our Lord arose into the air and continued to rise until the clouds concealed Him. Two angels nearby on the mountain informed the disciples that one day Jesus Christ would return in similar manner as He departed (Acts 1:11). “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:7).
The Old Testament records two ascensions respectively of prophets of God, though unlike Jesus, they did not die and resurrect from the dead prior to their ascensions. The first of the two references lacks any elaboration. “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). A New Testament passage corroborates Enoch’s ascension. “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5-6).
Then, 2 Kings 2:1-18 chronicles the ascension of the prophet Elijah. Unlike the information pertaining to the ascension of Enoch, an elaborate description – painting a vivid picture in the human mind – depicts Elijah’s ascension. The fanfare with which Elijah climbed into sky was more flamboyant than Jesus’ ascent into the heavens. “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). The common factor in the three ascensions was the removal of the prophets and Jesus Christ from the earth to heaven.
Predictions of the Ascension of Christ
Predictions or prophecies of the Ascension of Christ appear in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. For instance, one learns from Acts 2 that Psalm 110 pertained to the Ascension of our Lord. Part of the first recorded Gospel sermon strings together the death of Christ (Acts 2:23), His resurrection (Acts 2:24-31) and Christ’s Ascension (Acts 2:32-36).
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:32-36; cf., Psalm 110:1-7)
Furthermore, Jesus Christ repeatedly advised His disciples that eventually He would ascend and not be with them personally anymore. “…because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (John 16:10). Doubtless, since they had never observed an ascension before or anything comparable to it, they were as puzzled about the Ascension of Christ beforehand as they were about other matters, such as the nature of Christ’s kingdom (Acts 1:6).
Consider these utterances of Christ to His disciples about the impending Ascension. “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” (John 6:62). “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). “You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). “Then some of His disciples said among themselves, ‘What is this that He says to us, A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” (John 16:17). “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:28). “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:17).
Allusions to the Ascension of Christ
The New Testament freely refers to Jesus Christ being in heaven, which is the consequence of His Ascension. Some passages say in so many words that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8-10; 1 Timothy 3:16). Other, indirect references imply that the Ascension has taken place since Jesus Christ is in heaven now. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). See also Acts 3:21; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Hebrews 1:3; 9:24; 1 Peter 3:22.
The Ascension of Christ is so much more than merely moving His habitation from the earth to heaven. First, the Ascension provided an explanation of the whereabouts of the resurrected Lord. Secondly, the Ascension was Christ’s grand entry back into heaven and the signal of the commencement of the next phase in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ relative to the salvation of human souls.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.