His work on earth was done. The time had come for Him to return to His Heavenly home. Shortly He would take His place by the side of His Father upon the throne of light and glory.
Accompanied by the eleven, He made His way to the Mount of Olives. But the disciples did not know that this was to be their last interview with their Master. As they walked, the Saviour gave them His parting instruction. Just before leaving them, He made that precious promise, so dear to every one of His followers: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20).
They crossed the summit to the vicinity of Bethany. Here they paused and the disciples gathered about their Lord. Words of the deepest love and tenderness were the last which fell upon their ears from the lips of the Saviour.
With hands outstretched in blessing, He slowly ascended from among them. As He passed upward, the awe-stricken disciples looked with straining eyes for the last glimpse of their ascending Lord. A cloud of glory received Him from their sight.
While the disciples were still gazing upward, voices addressed them. They turned and saw two angels in the form of men, who spoke to them, saying:
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
It’s a brief scene. Almost incidental to the casual reader. But the Ascension holds a place of prominence alongside several other crucial events in the life of our Lord. There is the Incarnation. There is the Crucifixion. There is the Resurrection. There is Ascension. There is the Exaltation.
The ascension of our Lord is inseparably linked to the other three. Paul declares, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1Ti 3:16).
The ascension marks the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the initiation of His heavenly session. As He walked and worked among men, He showed them the Father and spoke of heaven. He declared numerous times that He would be ascended back to heaven. “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” (John 6:62).
We believe that Jesus’ ascension is a historical fact. I’m sure there’s no doubt in our minds it really happened. But in John 16:7, Jesus specifically reminds us that His ascension is for our profit: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away...” There’s more to it than mere history—there’s something for us. And the implications are life changing.
He Ascended as our Lord.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Act 2:36).
I know what people mean when they say it, but occasionally I hear people say, “You need to make Jesus the Lord of your life.” The Bible says God has already made Him Lord. His ascension took Him to the right hand of the Father. Angels and authorities and principalities are made subject unto him. “But now we see not yet all things put under him” (Heb 2:8). We live in those two words—not yet. The question is—have we bowed the knee to His lordship? Have we acknowledged His lordship? Are we confessing with our mouths that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life? Right now, the Lord Jesus Christ seeks hearts that crown Him Lord.
When we live in a conscious recognition and surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, it dramatically changes our lives.
By virtue of what He did for us at Calvary and His ascension, He has every right to be our Lord. “To this end, Christ both died and rose and revived that he might be Lord, both of the living and of the dead” (Romans 14:9).
Jesus Christ ascended back to heaven as our Lord.
He Ascended as our Forerunner.
We read in Hebrew 6:19-20, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast; and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.’’
Jesus Christ is our forerunner. In other words, He has gone ahead to heaven or gone before on our part. He has gone as our high priest for the purpose of sacrifice.
In the Old Testament, only the high priest, once a year, could go into the holy of holies. He would go in there with the blood of the lamb and sprinkle the blood one time on the mercy seat and seven times before the mercy seat before he would leave. This had to be repeated one time every year.
In John 20:17 Jesus said to Mary, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’’ I don’t claim to understand what all He meant, but I do know we read in Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.’’ Jesus Christ ascended and entered into heaven itself and appeared in the very presence of God for you and me.
Let’s reflect on the ritual for the cleansing of a leper in Leviticus 14. By God’s instruction, they were to take two living birds, along with a vessel, some cedar wood, and hyssop; one bird was killed in the earthen vessel under running water. With cedar wood and hyssop made into a sort of brush, the priest would dip it and the living bird into the blood which was mingled with water, then sprinkle it seven times over him who was to be cleansed. The priest would release the living bird, covered with the blood, into an open field. As that leper saw that bird ascending to heaven and he saw the blood dripping from the wings of the bird, he must have realized, “There goes my reason for cleansing. There is the blood which provides for my entrance back into the camp.’’
The types are rich. The outstretched hands of Jesus at His ascension reminded the disciples of the blood which dripped from them just weeks before. Our forerunner has gone ahead for the purpose of sacrifice. He has also gone ahead as our advocate for the purpose of intercession. His wounds plead for us. Romans 8:34 says, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again; who is at the right hand of the father who ever liveth to make intercession for us.’’
That means there’s somebody right now in heaven who is interceding for you. His work on this earth was historical and concluded. His work in heaven is eternal and continues without intermission.
He ascended as our master. He ascended as our forerunner.
He Ascended As Our Victor.
There’s a fascinating passage in Ephesians 4. It says, “wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.’’ That is a quotation from Psalm 68:18. It likely reflects when David was returning from one of his battles. He is returning with conquered enemies.
It is also possible that Paul is alluding to a Roman triumphus. It was common practice to parade a defeated people before the Roman masses and their emperor. Kings who had been defeated were tied to the chariots and dragged along. In an elaborate celebration, the major commander of the army would lead the conquered people, who had been made slaves, along with their seized possessions and present them as gifts to Rome and Caesar.
Could that have been what Paul meant when he said, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive. He gave gifts to men”?
When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven He didn’t slip in a side door like someone who had lost a battle. Jesus Christ went through the main door of heaven because He had conquered and He was entering heaven as the victor. He had won the battle at a place called Calvary. All hell had showed up that day, led by the destroyer himself. The arrows of hell plunge against him. For six hours they fought, but when the dust settled there was an empty tomb and our Savior; with the keys of death, hell, and the grave went back to heaven as the victor.
“And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).
His victory is the assurance of ours. Because Jesus won the victory, you and I can win the victory, too. We can go from battle to battle to battle singing “Victory in Jesus’’ because we do not fight FOR victory, we fight FROM victory. “Now thanks be unto God who always causes us to triumph in Christ” (II Corinthians 2:14).
This year, we celebrate Ascension Day on May 5, 2016. But with Christ as our Lord, our Forerunner, and our Victor, we cannot contain our celebration to one day in 365. We must lift His name high throughout our lives.