The Ascension of Jesus
Text: Luke 24; Acts 1
by Robert J. Young

Coming to conclusion of brief study of life of Jesus through various significant events. Easy to overlook the finale. The ascension is a great fact of the New Testament, a great declaration of Jesus' nature, a great factor in the life of Jesus and in the lives of Christians. The ascension is part of a continuing story. Luke 24 and Acts 1 were written by the same author. We are moving from volume one to volume two. Luke gives us great insight into the ascension. Lk. 24:50; Acts 1:8ff.
I hope you have seen in our study of these events from the life of Christ the intrigue, the questions, the challenges, the rewards. We sing songs about the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. We sing some songs about his life. But there are few songs about ascension. There are few sermons preached on the ascension. And, rightfully so perhaps, because there is little space in the NT devoted to the ascension. We have only meager detail for this sermon, we have in our texts read most of the NT on this topic. But something else is of interest here, a back door if you will. Christmas is emphasized, we spend money, it is a big thing even in the culture. Then Easter, and there is emphasis in the religious world again. This is what Cline Paden once called the "Holly-Lily Crowd." But did you know there is an Ascension Sunday? We don't make a big deal of it, even though it is on the traditional church calendar developed through the centuries. Most don't know when Ascension Sunday falls. So I am pointing out neglect and lack of discussion.

The ascension is the perfection and completion of God's plan for Jesus. Here is the gospel climax, culmination. This is essential, significant. There is meaning here. Jesus died, was raised. Now will he die as he exits earth? Remember the transfiguration. Moses, unique death. Elijah, Jesus.
For sinful humanity to reach heaven, two things are necessary: (1) removal of sin--the negative; (2) presence of righteousness--the positive. The resurrection demonstrated the sufficiency of the atonement to deal with sin. The ascension demonstrates the sufficiency of Christ's righteousness, imputed to us. Christ could return to heaven, having born the sins of the world, John 1:29, and other passages, but yet sinless and righteous. In John 16:10, the spirit convicts the world because of the ascension, connection to righteousness is clear.
Perhaps we understand why the ascension recedes from sight in comparison to the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:1-4 does not mention the ascension in connection with the gospel. Glory and victory are in the resurrection. All else pales alongside resurrection. But, ascension is completion, declaration and validation of resurrection. John 20:11-17; not yet ascended. What is this about? If Christ does not ascend, he will remain on earth. But his time here is short. The resurrection is prelude to the ascension. Of Christ's resurrection body we do not know. It was different from the body laid in the tomb yet essentially the same. It was recognizable, but perhaps with difficulty. It was the same yet different.
The point of the ascension may be also that Jesus did not just fade away. He did not vanish. There is visible, viable, witnessed departure. Identify it. Know it. There is a place, time, persons involved. The ascension says, Jesus is now gone, and the way is open for the next steps in the spread of the gospel. He work is done, finished, at the cross. Perhaps Jesus is the only one who ever completed his work. He fulfilled the purposes of God. He is not coming back to earth, will not set foot on earth, meet him in the air. No renewed Davidic kingdom is anticipated, he did not fail to establish his kingdom, he did what he was to do. In the ascension, millennialism is defeated. Christ is not coming back, his earthly role is over. He position of authority, honor, and glory is at God's right hand. He reigns and rules. The ascension is culmination, necessary for heavenly exaltation. The ascension goes hand in hand with the resurrection, is demanded by the resurrection. This is a touching time. Luke 24:50ff. Christ blesses them, exhibits his love before they are separated. Did they know what he was doing? He lifts his hands, gestures, he is saying he is going. At the transfiguration the apostles awaken to see Jesus, clouds, overshadowing, mysterious, then it is over. Bewildering, wondering. But at ascension there is serenity, calm, sharing. God is present, yet leaving. God will remain, his presence is always. Eternity can touch time. So in 24:52, they worship with joy. This is not fear, as at transfiguration, or crucifixion, of unbelief at the resurrection. These have seen something that will change their life for Christ. Perhaps one of the most wonderful aspects of ascension is worship and joy.

The ascension is historical. It is identifiable, visible, witnessed. Jesus returned to God. From Olivet you can see Jerusalem. This you can see in Mt. 23:37ff. This is the point from which the triumphal entry began, Mt. 21:1ff. This is a place of prayer, Lk. 22:39. This is a real place.
The persons are interesting. At birth, mother was there, perhaps angels, Jesus is not conspicuous to world. At resurrection, no human there, angels rolled stone away. At ascension, on clear day, plan, seen, witnessed, has more than the two witnesses required by Jewish law.

The ascension is preparation for Pentecost. Ascension and Holy Spirit connect. Christ promised HS after he left. Left so HS could come, John 16:7. After the ascension, Acts 2, HS came, gospel preached, church began. Kingdom inaugurated. Ascension is last great work of Christ, and one must not deny the reality, validity of ascension in the plan of God.

What shall I title this section? There is so much more to be said, various points, miscellaneous, but important.

  • 1. Jesus taught about his departure, John 6:62; 7:33; 16:10,17,27-28
  • 2. The connection to the HS, John 16:7-10. Jesus left so HS could come. Luke 24 transitions to Acts 1. He promised the HS with power, and the HS came on Pentecost.
  • 3. Ephesians is treatise on church, but emphasizes ascension. The ascension of Christ is connected with our eventual ascension. He has paved the way, he makes it possible. Hebrews also underscores and emphasizes the beauty of the ascension (Heb. 1:3; 2:9; 4:14; 8:1ff)
  • 4. The Bible sees the ascension as greatness and glory for Christ, Eph. 1:20-21. Christ is constituted as head of church, Col. 2:18-19. This is a recurring theme, Eph. 2:6; 3:10-12; 4:8-10; cf. Col. 2:15. The glory and greatness of Christ is clear in Acts 2:33, 3:21; 7:55; 1 Pet. 3:22. Christ was not just resurrected, not simply as he was before his death, but he is ascended as Lord of Lord, King of Kings. Matt. 28:20. He is ascended to authority, Phil. 2:6-11. The exaltation of Christ follows his humiliation. He humbled himself, and is now exalted to supreme authority. Therefore, we await him from the heavens, Phil. 3:20.
  • 5. It is amazing to read Luke 24. Funerals are hard. It is hard to give up on physical life. Yet they returned from the ascension with joy. Christ lives! Celebrate his life! The ascension is followed by joy. This is not sunset, but sunrise. This is not loss but gain. Phil. 1:21. Such blessing is in sight that there is rejoicing, 1 Thess. 4:9ff.
  • 6. In his leaving is empowerment for his people, John 14:12. Christ did not preach the gospel, he did not extend an invitation. He is the message. Now we offer Christ to a lost world. It is possible to know the entirety of his life with the ascension capping the story. When Christ was on earth, he did not have power and honor and rights as compared to his glory after the ascension.
  • 7. The promise of our future. The ascension says Jesus was not defeated by death, nor by sin. He is not dead at all. He is victoriously reigning. We can live like that too. But we do not. We ought to be more holy. The ascension is motivation. We can follow after holiness, despite our inadequacies in dealing with temptation. We do not have to excuse ourselves. Why are we so often despairing of growth, frustrated with weakness, excusing self. See the ascension. Here is promise. Jesus won the victory. There is the power of Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 10:13. Did Jesus merely weaken the power of evil at Calvary? He utterly defeated them. We need not heed their call at all. They have no power in our lives. We voluntarily submit to whichever we choose, Rom. 6:1ff. We make the choice. We yield to whom we will. Jas. 4:7ff. Resist Satan, and he will flee. God promises strength. At the ascension, Jesus is declaring, whatever the cost, I will not bow to sin. The ascension is the power and right of Christ. He has authority over my heart and life. He has the right to live there. He has been glorified.
    This is a new beginning for me. The resurrection promises us resurrection, the ascension promises glory beyond the grave. I will die, but that is not the end. The ascension is preview to our ascension, the declaration that we are not defeated by death. 1 Thess. 4 says we also shall rise.
  • 8. The ascension in the early church. 1 Tim. 3:16 is an early Christian song or chant, and it includes the ascension. Here is exaltation at God's right hand: (1) proof of victory, Eph. 4:8; (2) position of honor, Ps. 110:1; (3) place of power, Acts 2:33; (4) place of happiness, Ps. 26:11; (5) place of permanence, forever. Here is the consummation of Christ's redemptive work. The Christ of the gospels is the Christ of history. The Christ of the past is the Christ of the present. Here is the living Christ, of heaven, of experience, of present, of future.
  • 9. The ascension is declaration and prelude of return. He is coming again. He came, ascended, is coming. Heb. 9:22,28; Phil. 3:20-21; John 14:238. Read Acts 1:8-12. They share as he left, but he is coming again. Be ready. This message sent them back to Jerusalem with joy and worship.

    Without Christ, outside of Christ, there is no meaning in the ascension. But in the body of Christ, there is life, vitality, and hope. We are destined for heaven, here only temporarily. Mk. 16:15-16. Believe and anticipate the glory which is Christ's, see the ascension.
    We are frequently in danger of forgetting the glory and power and honor of Christ. Christ is coming. Are you ready?

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    Last updated November 23, 2002.