The Season from Easter to Pentecost: The Ascension of Christ

Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand in order to fulfill his promise of His return to the Father (John 6.62; 14.2,12; 16.5,10, 28; 20.17), to vindicate his messiahship and sonship, and to pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church for worship and witness (cf. John 16.7 with Acts 1.8; Acts 2.33).

The Ascension of Christ: The Risen Lord has Ascended to the Right Hand of God

The Ascension of Christ to heaven refers to that event where the risen Jesus, after 40 days of confirming his resurrection to his disciples, ascended to the Father. On his arrival, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20b-21; 1 Pe. 3:22; Lk. 24:17-53). On Thursday, May 29, we celebrate with Christians all over the world the Ascension of our Lord to God’s right hand. Glorified by the Father as Head of the Church (cf. Eph. 1.15-23), our Lord has sent his Spirit into the world, intercedes for his own before God, and reigns above in a position of glory and power awaiting the coming judgment.

As one commentator put it, there is “no incident in the life of Jesus at one and the same time so beset with difficulties and so essential as the Ascension” (William Barclay as quoted in Norman Gulley, “The Ascension of Christ.” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 472). Others have referred to this important doctrine of the church and creed as the “most neglected doctrine of the church.” Still, the Ascension of Jesus is one of the New Testament’s central themes. Without it, we cannot understand the sending of the Spirit into the world, Jesus’ high priestly ministry for the Church, the harvesting of souls during this age “between the times,” or the blessed hope of Jesus’ return.

The claim of God’s exaltation of Jesus to his right hand was a staple in the apostles’ preaching and teaching, and it must become a central theme in our worship and mission if we are to be true witnesses of the Gospel.

Proofs of the Resurrection, Promises of the Spirit’s Coming: Pentecost

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For 40 days following his resurrection from the dead, the risen Jesus provided the apostles with a number of convincing proofs of his return from death, and taught them concerning the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.311). He commanded them to stay in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father (i.e., the Holy Spirit) would be granted to them (cf. Acts 1.5; John 14.16; 15.26; 16.7). They questioned him concerning the timing of God’s restoration of the Kingdom, revealing the close connection in their minds of the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the end of the age, climaxed with the coming of the promised Kingdom of the Father (cf. Isa. 32.15-20; 44.3-5; Ezek. 39.28-29; Joel 2.28-3.1; Zech. 12.8-10).

After commanding his apostles to share the Good News to the ends of the earth, starting at Jerusalem, Jesus ascended as they looked on, and was lifted up with a cloud taking him out of their sight (Acts 1.9). As firsthand witnesses, the apostles saw the risen Christ ascend. According to Luke’s account, “two men in white robes” [i.e., angels of God] made the following affirmation: “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 1.10-11).

This doctrine is critical for Christian worship, spiritual warfare, and fruitful mission. Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand in order to fulfill his promise of His return to the Father (John 6.62; 14.2,12; 16.5,10, 28; 20.17), to vindicate his messiahship and sonship, and to pour out the Holy Spirit upon the Church for worship and witness (cf. John 16.7 with Acts 1.8; Acts 2.33). As conquering Lord, Christ now spreads abroad the “spoils” of his divine triumph over the devil and the forces of evil (Eph. 4.8-10), and he now prepares a place (i.e., the New Jerusalem) for his redeemed company and body, the Church (John 14.2-3; Acts 3.21). Because he has ascended, he can now empower all members of his Church with his divine presence through the Spirit (Matt. 28.20 cf. John 16.7-15), and ensure us that soon and very soon, he will return and restore creation under his reign (Acts 1.9-11). This central doctrine calls for our shouts of praise, affirmations of faith, and acts of courage in witness. Jesus is risen, and ascended to the Father for his own glory, and for us!

Because Jesus our Lord is ascended, exalted, and glorified at the Father’s right hand, therefore, let us affirm him to be the Head of the Church, the Lord of the Harvest, and the High Priest of the Lord. Let us acknowledge him to be Christus Victor, supreme sovereign to whom all authority has been entrusted.

Truly, let us submit our wills to him as our exalted Head, and bear bold witness of his saving work to the world. Above all, let us stir up our hearts in anticipation of his return as the coming Judge of all and our coming King. With all believers, we affirm together the great anthem of the Church: “All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall! Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all!”

Bring Forth the Royal Diadem, and Crown Jesus Lord of All!

Come, let us continue our Easter celebration with praise and thanksgiving as we remember the Ascension of Jesus Christ.  With Christians around the world, let us glory in the exalted status of our Champion and Victor.  Having destroyed death, defeated evil and the powers, rescinded the curse, and established the future recreation of all things, he has been enthroned at the Father’s right hand as Lord.  The crucified One has indeed been given all power, and he must reign until all his enemies are subdued and conquered under his feet.  Let us glory in our Lord Jesus, whom the Father has made both Lord and Christ, who has ascended to the Father’s presence to intercede on our behalf.   From the Father’s side, we await the coming of our Savior and Lord.  Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!