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Why the Ascension of Christ Matters

April 6, 2024 | by: Michael Sanelli | 0 comments


Among the most significant events in the life of Christ, the ascension could be the greatest contender for the most forgotten. We joyfully celebrate the incarnation with an entire season of festivities because God sent his Son, breaking the long silence in fulfillment of his promises. We solemnly remember his crucifixion on Good Friday and regularly as we eat the bread and drink the cup. We preach the cross with such urgency because it is only by the cross of Christ that atonement has been made. His resurrection is marked by Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, but often celebrated in our songs. The resurrection gives us hope because of the promise of our future resurrection in which we will forever live in glorified bodies with him. The significance of these events seem more apparent to us.

What about the ascension? For the most part, the ascension is spoken of in passing without further development of its implications. Only Luke records the actual event, both at the end his Gospel and at the beginning of the book of Acts (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). We don’t often ask more questions of the ascension because we don’t immediately appreciate its position in the story of the Bible.

The ascension was both a necessary event and a theologically significant part of Christ’s work. Let's reflect on the important place it has in connection to more familiar and dearly cherished aspects of Christ’s ministry to us.

The Necessity of the Ascension

The ascension wasn’t merely the last resurrection appearance of Christ. Christ had appeared to the disciples after the resurrection many times to teach them about the kingdom (Acts 1:3). As we see in other accounts, he would appear to them for a time and then vanish (e.g. Luke 24:31). This was different. This was final. His ascension was a decisive departure, but was it necessary for Jesus to leave?

Following Pentecost, Peter testified to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 3:14-15). When calling the people to repent (v. 19) he mentions that Jesus is the one “whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things” (v. 21). Apparently, Jesus must be in the heavenly places during the age of the church until his return.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus asked, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26; cf. 1 Peter 1:11). Jesus claimed that the Old Testament foretold not only his suffering on the cross but also his subsequent resurrection and ascension, returning to the glory that he had with the Father before creating the universe. Jesus had prayed in the upper room the night of his betrayal, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).

The ascension was an expectation of the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 110:1). It was the path of the Messiah to humble himself, even to suffer death on a cross, rise again, and then be exalted entering into his glory (Phil. 2:6-11). Christ must be in the heavenly places during the church age. In doing so, Christ would be rightly exalted, in the perfect position to properly minister from his glorified state.

The Coronation of the King

The ascension plays a crucial role in the Biblical storyline regarding the promised Messianic King. We could say it was part of the coronation service of Christ, his installment to the place of power and authority. Jesus told Pilate before his crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). It wasn’t an earthly throne that the Messiah would first sit on, but a heavenly one.

The author of Hebrews applies Psalm 45:6 to Jesus, saying, “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8). Christ was installed, not on David’s earthly throne in Jerusalem, but on the eternal, heavenly throne at the right hand of the Father, the position of authority and power (1:3-4). He is now the exalted Lord of heaven – all authority being his (Ephesians 1:20-22).

The ascension took place that Christ would be exalted, seated at the right hand of the Father (Philippians 2:9-11; cf. Matthew 28:18, Luke 22:69, Romans 8:34, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 12:2, Matthew 26:64, Acts 2:33, 1 Peter 3:22, Mark 14:62, Hebrews 1:3, 10:12, 8:1, Acts 7:56, etc.). From this position, exalted on high, Christ ministers in such a way that he couldn’t have while on earth.

Apart from the ascension, Christ would not be in this exalted position to minister as the Messianic King of the age of the church. The ascension stands as the installment of Christ into his current office and ministry. Asking, what is the significance of the ascension, is essentially like asking, what is the significance of the President being sworn into office? Without it, yes the votes have come in, but he may not step into the oval office and begin his work yet. So too, Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection means he has victory over sin and death as King. Yet, he must be enthroned in order to begin his reign as the exalted King.

The Extension of Christ’s Prophetic Ministry

The ascension had Trinitarian significance. Jesus left this world in order to return to the Father (John 16:28; 20:17). Upon returning, both the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to dwell in us (Acts 2:33). In fact, Jesus said if he did not leave, the Spirit would not come (John 16:7). The significance of the giving of the Spirit means many things for us. One of which is experiencing the extension of Christ’s prophetic ministry.

Peter declared Jesus as the promised prophet to come from Deuteronomy 18:15 (see Acts 3:22-26). A prophet speaks for God to God’s people, often as a call to repent from idolatry and to remember their covenant with the Lord (e.g. Isaiah 44:21).

Jesus acted in this capacity as the one who reveals the Father (John 1:18; 14:6-8), the ultimate culmination of God’s self-revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus spoke the words that the Father authorized him to speak (John 5:19-20; 12:49; 14:10), speaking as one who had authority (Matthew 7:29). Jesus preached repentance (Matthew 4:17), having come for the very purpose to tell of the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4:43).

In his exaltation, this ministry as prophet was extended, even amplified. It is Christ who continues his ministry of revelation through the work of the Spirit (John 16:8). It is the very voice of Christ that is heard in the gospel call so that his sheep today hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27; cf. Romans 10:14). The Spirit comes to tell God’s people what Christ wants us to know (John 14:26, 15:26) thus glorifying the Son to us (16:14).

If Christ had not been exalted, the Spirit would not have come. To hear Christ’s prophetic voice, one would physically have to be in his presence. By the Spirit, Christ now exalted still speaks today as the prophet who reveals the Father to us.

The Consummation of His Priestly Ministry

Jesus’ role as priest is more than a metaphor. He mediated between God and man with an actual blood sacrifice. In fact, the whole sacrificial system was the metaphor for the substance of Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). God never intended for the old covenant priesthood to serve as a permanent solution to be reconciled to God. We needed Jesus as the true and final High Priest. Jesus performed his priestly duty by offering himself as a sacrifice on the cross, both as the sacrificial lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; cf. 1 Peter 1:19) and the priest who offers the sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27). But how does the ascension relate to Christ’s priestly ministry?

At the very least, the ascension needed to take place if Jesus were to prepare a place for us to join him in the Father’s presence (John 14:1-7). The cross was the primary component of Christ’s preparation for us. Atonement for sin must be made if we are to be reconciled to God. As in the Old Testament, however, the blood sacrifice then had to be presented before God in the holy of holies.

Consider the author of Hebrews on this point:

Hebrews 9:11-12
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Payment was secured on the cross, but Christ took that payment into the holy of holies. Christ presented himself in the holy places, not in a temple or tabernacle, but in heaven.

Christ’s priestly ministry was to make payment for sin by the blood of the cross and then to take that offering before the Father, making peace between God and man. He then took his proper place beside the Father to continue to minister on our behalf (Hebrews 10:12-14). This was not only as our King and the great Prophet, but also as our High Priest.

As high priest, Christ is the one through whom we may draw near to God today. We now have a high priest ascended on high (Hebrews 4:14) always there to intercede on our behalf (7:25; cf. Romans 8:34), and welcome us into the throne room to receive grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:16). As a perfect high priest, the perfect mediator between God and man, Christ is a sympathetic high priest (v. 15). He understands our weaknesses, but as the exalted Lord of the universe he is now in the position of power and authority, able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25).

Concluding Thoughts

Michael_edited-1The ascension was a key aspect of Christ’s ministry in that his return to the Father put him in the position to minister to all his people by the power of the Spirit. Apart from the ascension, Christ would not have been our Prophet, Priest, and King in the ways we’ve just described. The ascension is the hinge between the ages, announcing the exalted Christ as Lord in heaven forever ministering to his people.

In the traditional church calendar, Ascension Day is celebrated 40 days following Resurrection Sunday. This year this takes place on May 9th. As this day approaches, take some time to reflect on the significance of the ascension of Christ. His kingdom isn’t like any earthly kingdom. His ministry is expansive and powerful as he serves us in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Christ which dwells in you. Jesus is in the seat of authority and power. He speaks today. He hears you today as the one ascended on high. Let that be a comfort to you.

Michael Sanelli is a Minister at Grace Bible Church