Recently I was reading John Calvin’s discussion of the ascension of Jesus in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. I was struck by his treatment of the “benefits imparted to our faith by Christ’s ascension,” in which he makes the following observations:
From this doctrine faith derives manifold advantages. First, it perceives that the Lord, by his ascension to heaven, has opened up the access to the heavenly kingdom, which Adam had shut. For having entered it in our flesh, as it were in our name, it follows, as the Apostle says, that we are in a manner now seated in heavenly places, not entertaining a mere hope of heaven, but possessing it in our head.
Secondly, faith perceives that his seat beside the Father is not without great advantage to us. Having entered the temple not made with hands, he constantly appears as our advocate and intercessor in the presence of the Father; directs attention to his own righteousness, so as to turn it away from our sins; so reconciles him to us, as by his intercession to pave for us a way of access to his throne, presenting it to miserable sinners, to whom it would otherwise be an object of dread, as replete with grace and mercy.
Thirdly, it discerns his power, on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive,” (Eph. 4:8). Spoiling his foes, he gave gifts to his people, and daily loads them with spiritual riches. He thus occupies his exalted seat, that thence transferring his virtue unto us, he may quicken us to spiritual life, sanctify us by his Spirit, and adorn his Church with various graces, by his protection preserve it safe from all harm, and by the strength of his hand curb the enemies raging against his cross and our salvation; in fine, that he may possess all power in heaven and earth, until he have utterly routed all his foes, who are also ours and completed the structure of his Church. Such is the true nature of the kingdom, such the power which the Father has conferred upon him, until he arrive to complete the last act by judging the quick and the dead. (2.2.16)
I was glad to see Calvin’s emphasis upon the ascension, and I was reminded of a teaching I gave several years ago as I began to realize how little Christians think about or emphasize the ascension today. I thought it might be good, then, to share this teaching here. What follows is my own teaching outline:
Teaching Outline on the Ascension of Christ
Introduction: Ask for contribution from the congregation to answer the question: “What are the most significant events of Jesus’ life or aspects of His work for us?” Answers will do doubt include such things as His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Sadly, I have yet to hear anyone mention the ascension when I ask this question. But what about His ascension? What can we learn from it, and why do we need to know about it?
Many Christians have not given Jesus’ ascension much thought, except, perhaps, as a part of a discussion of His return – which we will see is indeed important. But there are a number of things the Bible has to say about why Jesus ascended into Heaven. In fact, we will examine nine reasons for His ascension.
1. Jesus ascended to demonstrate the manner in which He would return.
NKJ Acts 1:9-11 “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 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.’”
Application: This passage is the primary reason why Christians have consistently affirmed the visible, bodily return of Christ in the future. We do not have to worry that He might have come back already and we somehow missed it! He was seen going into heaven, and He will be seen coming back to earth!
2. Jesus ascended to complete His exaltation.
NKJ Acts 2:33-36 “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. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’ 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
NKJ Acts 5:31 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
NKJ Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
NKJ 1 Timothy 3:16 “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”
Application: We should never cease to praise Jesus as our risen and ascended Lord. We should seek to praise and honor Him as Lord in all that we do. And we should remember to include this as part of the Gospel message in our witness to others just as the Apostles did. When you tell others about Jesus, do you ever emphasize His exaltation at the Father’s right hand? Do you stress His exalted status as Lord over all creation?
3. Jesus ascended to begin His reign in Heaven.
NKJ Ephesians 1:20-23 “… which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:25 “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”
NKJ 1 Peter 3:22 “…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”
Application: Many of us rightly think of Jesus as one day returning to establish His Kingdom, but we should also remember that He is already reigning over all things. He is already the King to whom every knee ought to bow, and our allegiance to Him takes precedence over all other allegiances.
4. Jesus ascended to demonstrate the completion of His sacrificial work.
NKJ Hebrews 1:1-3 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….”
NKJ Hebrews 10:11-12 “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God….”
NKJ Hebrews 12:2 “….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.”
Application: Jesus’ work was finished, and there was nothing left to be done in order to accomplish forgiveness for our sins, so – unlike the Levitical priests – He sat down. If He needed to do nothing more for us in His atoning work, then we can certainly do nothing to add to what He has done! We can fully place our trust in what He has done for us, confident that there is nothing left to do!
5. Jesus ascended in order to prepare a place for us.
NKJ John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Illustration: When we have guests coming, we get ready for them in advance, especially when we are glad to have them coming to stay with us. And we aren’t going to spend all that time getting ready for the visit only to forget to pick our guest up at the airport!
Application: Jesus is already making preparation for the eternity we will spend with Him in Heaven! What a tremendous encouragement for us all. And if He is working to prepare this place for us, then we know He is doing it for a reason, to come for us and take us home with Him.
6. Jesus ascended in order to send the Holy Spirit to us.
NKJ John 14:16-18 “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
Application: The Holy Spirit enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in our lives at all times.
NKJ John 16:7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
Jesus doesn’t say why He must go for the Spirit to come. It was apparently a part of a plan that must be followed.
Application: The Holy Spirit has come to us in a way that He would not have come if Jesus had not ascended back to Heaven. And His empowering presence is a blessing that we wouldn’t have known aside from Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
7. Jesus ascended in order to continue His intercession for us at the Father’s right hand.
NKJ Romans 8:34 “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”
NKJ Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Application: It is such an encouragement to know that Jesus went to bend the Father’s ear, so to speak, on our behalf! He is right there, in the most exalted place, nearest to the Father, interceding for us constantly.
8. Jesus ascended in order to demonstrate His victory.
NKJ Ephesians 4:8 “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’.”
Quote: John Gill has aptly commented on this passage:
[This] is expressive of Christ’s conquests and triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and the grave; and indeed, every spiritual enemy of his and his people, especially the devil, who leads men captive at his will, and is therefore called captivity, and his principalities and powers, whom Christ has spoiled and triumphed over; the allusion is to the public triumphs of the Romans, in which captives were led in chains, and exposed to open view. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
The victory that He demonstrated through His ascension was the victory He wrought upon the cross:
NKJ Colossians 2:13-15 “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
Application: What an encouragement that Jesus did not ascend without first winning the decisive battle over all our enemies! His ascension proves that the victory is ours through His work and power.
9. Jesus ascended in order to give gifts to the Church.
NKJ Ephesians 4:8-13 “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ 9 (Now this, ‘He ascended’ — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ….”
Application: Not only did Jesus leave us the Holy Spirit (as we saw earlier), but He also made sure that He gave us the leaders and the teachers we will need – and that the Holy Spirit will use – to help us achieve maturity as Christians and to serve Him in the Church and in the world. Do you often think of your pastor-teachers, for example, as gifts from Jesus to you? Do you thank Him for these gifts?
Conclusion: Will you all think about the ascension of Jesus the next time you are pondering the most important events in His life or the most important aspects of His saving work on our behalf? Will you remember to worship Him as your risen and ascended Lord, as you ought to do? Will you remember to speak of His exalted status as the ascended Lord when you tell others about Him?
I hope the blog’s readers find this brief teaching outline helpful, not only in reminding themselves of the importance of Jesus’ ascension, but also as an aid to help remind others as well.
Soli Deo gloria!
2 thoughts on “The Importance of the Ascension of Christ”
Well stated, Pastor Throop! Sadly, the ascension of Jesus Christ remains one of the most neglected aspects of His life and ministry. Calvin's treatment of the subject is excellent. I also recommend G.C. Berkouwer's volume on the work of Christ in his Dogmatics series.
Pastor, Community United Reformed Church
Thanks for the encouraging word, brother! And thanks for the recommendations for further study.