Some events recorded in the Gospels are almost overlooked or treated as unimportant, seeming to have no importance for faith or no real theological significance. Often, however, that view is mistaken. At the very least, if the Lord included them in his revelation, they deserve our attention and closer study may show that they are significant. That is true of what followed the resurrection of the Saviour. We will consider Christ Exalted: 2. Ascension.
1. The clear departure
Note Acts 1:9 ‘a cloud hid him from their sight’: clearly Christ has gone to a place beyond the reach of their physical senses, though he still has a material body. The ascension marks a transition to a new phase of Christ’s incarnate life and ministry. The disciples need to understand that they cannot continue to relate to Jesus as they formerly did. They cannot see, touch or hear him. There can be no going back. Note too Jesus’ words to Mary – ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended’ (John 20:17). Mary’s relationship to him cannot be as it once was. As 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us, ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’. We are not to seek physical manifestations of the Lord. We must be content with the Word as our channel of contact with him at present.
2. The present blessings
The ascension of Christ has profound implications. We can identify at least three blessings:
(i). We have an Advocate in heaven (1 John 2:1). This is full of comfort for believers. We do sin repeatedly, but in heaven Christ continually pleads our case before the Father. Satan seeks (unsuccessfully) to have us condemned as guilty sinners and often troubles our consciences – he is ‘the accuser of our brothers’ (Revelation 12:10), but Christ can point to his finished work (2 Corinthians 5:21) which has fully dealt with all our sin.
(ii). We have our own flesh in heaven. He still has a human nature (albeit glorified). The incarnation is permanent. He has been ‘made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest’ (Hebrews 2:17). United to Christ, we already are ‘seated…with him in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 2:6).
(iii). We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, as promised in John 16:7. Christ secured the ministry of the Spirit to apply redemption to the elect. He makes dead sinners alive (John 3:3), remaking them in the likeness of Christ. All that is good in the believer’s life is the fruit of the Spirit’s working in him
3. The promised return
The One who has departed will return (Acts 1:11). Here is the guarantee that he will return, as promised in John 14:3. This is also the pattern of his return – ‘in the same way’ – a visible, personal return, when ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7). Believers will share in the glory of the Lord which will then be revealed.