The Ascension is a redemptive event of incredibly profound importance. This amazing event marks the moment of Jesus Christ's highest point of exaltation prior to His visible and physical return as glorious reigning King over all the material and spiritual omniverse. It is in the Ascension that Christ Jesus re-entered into His glorious spiritual dominion once again.
Jesus described His departure from this earth as being better for us than His continuing physical presence among His disciples. In ascending, God the Son would both rule and abide internally within every one of His true followers with His Father God, through the outpoured third Person of the Triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit of God, Who would be sent forth within days of Jesus’ Ascension.
When Jesus first announced His departure to the disciples, they were saddened by the news, not understanding and only recognizing Him in complete humanity He shares with all of us. However, in the actual experience of Jesus’ Ascension, they came to realize the amazing significance of this great event.
Luke records the actual circumstance of the Ascension for us:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 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." (ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1:9-11)
In these few Biblical texts, we are given the bare outline of this astounding experience, which is attested to have been seen by the Eleven remaining apostles in Luke 24.As we look at these verses of Scripture, we notice that Jesus departed in a cloud. This is probably a reference to the Shekinah, the cloud of God's glory, which had accompanied the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness at the time of the Exodus, and enveloped Solomon’s Temple at its dedication.
The Shekinah exceeds in radiance any ordinary cloud. It is the visible manifestation of God's radiating glory. Therefore, the manner of Jesus' departure was not at all ordinary. It was a moment of remarkably ineffable splendor.
To ascend means "to go up" or "to rise." However, when the term Ascension is used with respect to Jesus Christ, it has a deeper, richer, and more specific meaning. Jesus' Ascension is absolutely unique. It goes beyond Enoch being taken directly into heaven or the departure of Elijah in a chariot of fire. Jesus' Ascension refers to His going to the uniquely special divine place for the singular special purpose of His ongoing intercession for His flock, His peculiar people, His royal nation of born of the Spirit children!
The Bible helps us to understand the interaction between Jesus and His Heavenly Father God, through the Kingly picture of Jesus being enthroned at His Father's right hand. This is an anthropomorphic picture of Jesus returning to the fullness of exaltation sharing again the magnificent splendor of His Father and the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Revelation, Chapter 5, Jesus’ return to the Father is heralded in a deeply worshipful, visionary manner:
And I saw lying on the open hand of Him Who was seated on the throne a scroll (book) written within and on the back, closed and sealed with seven seals;2 And I saw a strong angel announcing in a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll? And [who is entitled and deserves and is morally fit] to break its seals?3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth [in the realm of the dead, Hades] was able to open the scroll or to take a [single] look at its contents.4 And I wept audibly and bitterly because no one was found fit to open the scroll or to inspect it.5 Then one of the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] said to me, Stop weeping! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root (Source) of David, has won (has overcome and conquered)! He can open the scroll and break its seven seals!6 And there between the throne and the four living creatures (beings) and among the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God [the sevenfold Holy Spirit] Who have been sent [on duty far and wide] into all the earth.7 He then went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him Who sat on the throne.8 And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] prostrated themselves before the Lamb. Each was holding a harp (lute or guitar), and they had golden bowls full of incense (fragrant spices and gums for burning), which are the prayers of God’s people (the saints).9 And [now] they sing a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the scroll and to break the seals that are on it, for You were slain (sacrificed), and with Your blood You purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 And You have made them a kingdom (royal race) and priests to our God, and they shall reign [as kings] over the earth! 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels on every side of the throne and of the living creatures and the elders [[f]of the heavenly Sanhedrin], and they numbered ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands,12 Saying in a loud voice, Deserving is the Lamb, Who was sacrificed, to receive all the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and majesty (glory, splendor) and blessing! 13 And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed the blessing and the honor and the majesty (glory, splendor) and the power (might and dominion) forever and ever (through the eternities of the eternities)! 14 Then the four living creatures (beings) said, Amen (so be it)! And the elders [of the heavenly Sanhedrin] prostrated themselves and worshiped Him Who lives forever and ever.
Jesus’ ascent to this completed place of universally exclaimed exaltation, followed after completion of His eternally chosen descent into humiliation in His incarnation as a human being. This state of humiliation, from Jesus’ miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, to His impeccable, sinless life for 33 years, to His powerful ministry of compassion and redemption, to His Passion, was the culmination of God’s eternal plan of salvation for humanity.
In His going to a shamelessly contrived trial, to a shameful crucifixion tree, to a shadowy cavern-like tomb, to Sheol’s cold terrors, to showing complete triumph, Jesus emerged as total Victor, rising out from the depths of the lower regions of the earth. After Jesus’ resurrection, His appearances to so many in the forty days that followed, with His teaching, instruction, and commands to His disciples in a variety of places and at various times, to as many as 500 at once, were all infallible evidences of His rising again. (1 CORINTHIANS 15)
In returning again to His proper seat of absolute cosmic authority, as the victorious Messiah ascended through the heavens.(i.e., angelic levels of the Gnostics or the seven heavens of the rabbis, - 1 PETER 3:22; EPHESIANS 4:9). II Enoch 7:1-5 also says that the fallen angels are imprisoned in the second heaven. Jesus, by this very act of ascending, announced His victory over all the angelic realms, as He lifted above and beyond all other realms and dominions to the ultimate pinnacle of all that is, standing astride all the created order, both material and spiritual. (i.e., beyond every possible spiritual opposition, cf. the Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 367)
Once and for all exalted above and beyond all heavenly realms, Jesus entered again to His place exalted over the heavens, for His coronation, His confirmation as the eternal King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In this current age, with Jesus ascended beyond heaven for His coronation as King of Kings, this new reality has been Biblically expressed as, Jesus being seated at the right hand of God.
This Scripture picture of Jesus at the right hand of God represents the seat of authority. From this position Jesus rules, administrates His kingdom, and presides as the ultimate Judge of heaven and earth. At the right hand of the Father, Jesus is seated as the Head of His body, the church.
Jesus’ entrance was not in the same state as His pre-incarnate existence as the Logos Word, God the Son, but instead both then and forever, as the Theanthropos. (the God Man, with a human nature and body in eternal hypostatic union with His divine nature as the Second Person of the Triune Godhead)
As the eternal divine/human God Man, Jesus also ascended to enter the heavenly Holy of Holies to continue His work, as our great High Priest, representing redeemed humanity before the Father as One of us. Jesus has remained both in heaven, embodying fully and eternally all of the indwelling Deity or Godhead, while simultaneously filling the entire universe with Himself! (EPHESIANS 4:1-10, COLOSSIANS 2:9-10)
As we focus in on Ephesians 4:10, which is translated as, “He Who descended is the [very] same as He Who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things (the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest),” we come into a sense of both the intensity and immensity of Paul’s revelatory insights into the true deity of Jesus. Although the apostle John’s Revelation is filled with amazing imagery, Paul’s declaration in this text conceptualizes and communicates the fullest sphere of divine authority that Jesus wields over all things, as well as expressing His divine attributes as God the Son, Second Person of the Godhead.
In heaven, during this present Church Age, when the dead exist in a spiritual Intermediate State, Jesus reigns as King and intercedes for us as our High Priest, until He returns to earth in His appearing or Parousia. Jesus’ filling the entire universe with Himself, is a mystery that can only be seen dimly by our limited understandings, but has special qualities that we can meditate upon and be edified by.
The question that was considered by scholars of the Reformation period, was whether this statement included Jesus’ human nature as well. Lutheran scholastics gave their firm affirmation to this understanding, linking it with their view of Holy Communion and the doctrine of consubtantiation, which focuses on the “real Presence” of Jesus as,"truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms of,” the consecrated bread and wine of Lord’s Supper.
The Swiss Reformers, following Calvin, who strongly proclaim that Jesus’ human nature is inexorably connected to His physical Presence in heavenly realms, which His followers commune with through faith, receiving Him into themselves, by His emanating power dynamically, or by the grace of the Holy Spirit pneumatically, in the individual believer partaking of Communion.
From His position of ascended authority, Jesus has poured out His Spirit upon the church, and this outpouring is intimately connected to His omnipresent filling of all things. John Calvin remarked, “Being raised to heaven, he withdrew his bodily presence from our sight, not that he might cease to be with his followers, who are still pilgrims on the earth, but that he might rule both heaven and earth more immediately by his power.”
In this position, Jesus' authority and governmental jurisdiction and His administration also extend beyond the sphere of His church, to embrace the continued upholding of entire multi-verse, and the destiny of every nation and person in the whole world. (HEBREWS 1 )
Through these lines of heavenly authority, church and state may be distinguished within Jesus' domain, yet they are never separated or divorced, as He guides the eternal destiny of billions of humans acting freely in their own choices, to the ultimate outcome. His authority extends over all spheres of willful actions, both by human beings as individuals and a groups, governments, and societies, and all spiritual dominions, whether elect angelic beings or fallen.
All earthly rulers are accountable to Him and will be judged by Him in His office as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Everyone in heaven and on earth is called by God to reverence Jesus' majesty, to be ruled by His hand, to do Him proper homage, and to submit to His power, to the glory of God the Father. (PHILIPPIANS 2)
Everyone will ultimately stand before Him as He sits in final judgment of both those living at the time of His Second Coming, and all those who have ever lived on the earth as sentient beings, as well as all of the angelic orders of creation. Jesus has the authority to pour out His Holy Spirit upon His church, His “ecclesia or “called – out ones.”
Jesus did not pour out the Spirit until He was first seated at the right hand of His Father God, as this event was another shared work of the Trinity, just as each other salvific milestone was integral to the entire Godhead’s prerogative and purpose in redeeming humanity. Although sharing fully with the Father and Son in the divine Essence, the Holy Spirit has embraced from all eternity His ministry as “the One like Jesus, called alongside to help,” in subordination to the Father and the Son.
It is the Father through the Son, Who together sent Him to apply Jesus Christ's self-sacrificing work of salvation to all of Jesus’ followers, with holy enabling, internal energizing, and extraordinary empowerment, available in every place and in every time until the Redeemer’s visible, physical return to earth. While seated at the right hand of God, Jesus not only exercises His role as King of Kings, He also fulfills the role of eternal cosmic Judge.
Jesus is Judge over all nations and all people and all spiritual dominions, principalities, powers, rulers and minions. Although Jesus rules as our Judge, He has also been appointed by the Father to be our advocate. He is our defense attorney. At the last judgment our court-appointed defense lawyer will be the presiding Judge over all.
A foretaste of Jesus' compassionate and Personal intercession on behalf of saints can be seen in Luke’s recording of the martyrdom of Stephen, who was the first to die for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, after Jesus Himself:
But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look!
I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (ACTS 7:55-56)
May we each have the blessing of Stephen, to give our all in this life to the very end, knowing that Jesus awaits us with His arms wide open to us, His nail-scarred hands reaching out to receive us!
Neil Uniacke, Executive Director