The ascension is the end and climax of our Lord’s earthly ministry as it is the basis and foundation of the ministry of His servants.
The Record of the Ascension
Luke records the ascension of the Lord Jesus twice, once at the end of his Gospel and once at the beginning of his treatise in the Acts of the Apostles (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-12). On both occasions Luke reminds us that the Savior ascended from the Mount of Olives. What a scene the disciples witnessed on that memorable day! A Man going up, through the heavens and into the heavens, into heaven itself to become, as we love to call Him, “The Man in the Glory.”
So much had happened since that evening in Gethsemane. There had been the long night of mockery in the house of Caiaphas, followed by the hours of continuing mockery and physical pain in the Antonia Fortress where the Romans scourged Him, crowned Him with thorns, shamefully disrobed Him, buffeted Him, sentenced Him, and led Him out to die. At Golgotha they had crucified Him, gambled for His garments, and finally, on His death after six hours of suffering, had pierced His side with a spear. Joseph and Nicodemus had buried Him. Where were His disciples? There had been three days of sad silence, and then, the tomb was empty. He was risen, leaving behind in the tomb the vacated grave clothes as silent witnesses to the miracle of resurrection. For almost six weeks then, He had shown Himself alive, appearing to them at appropriate moments of His own choosing. Now, from the Mount of Olives, He was returning to the heavens from which He had come.
He led them out as far as to Bethany. He would leave earth from the village that had received Him when so many others had refused Him. He would leave from Bethany, where they had given Him a place in their homes and in their hearts. Was He reluctant to leave Bethany? He could have ascended from the temple court in splendor, when thousands of pilgrims might have witnessed the great event. He could have gone up from Nazareth, where He had lived for those thirty early years of His lovely life. He could have chosen Bethlehem, completing a visitation of earth which had begun there. Or it might have been Cana where He made the water wine and had first manifested His glory as Messiah. But no! He led them out as far as to Bethany. He would ascend from the Mount of Olives with all its other memories, and from Bethany where loving hearts had made room for Him during the years of His sojourn.
The Results of The Ascension
The ascension was a momentous event and the implications are of tremendous import as we ponder them. What does it mean to the Lord Jesus? What does it mean to us, to the Church? What does it mean to the world, or to the prince of this world, Satan himself? The answers to these questions are far reaching indeed.
For the Savior, His ascension means vindication. Despised and rejected in the world, He has been received in the heavens. By divine invitation He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Psalm 110:1; Heb 1:3). The world knew Him not and His own received Him not. He lived unknown and unrecognized by men in general and by His own nation. But heaven has enthroned Him. He has been vindicated and now sits in glory.
For the Church, the ascended Christ is now her Head in heaven. She is “the Church which is His body” (Eph 1:23) and with affection and authority He has given gifts for her nourishment and increase (Eph 4:16). His apostles and prophets began the ministry of edifying. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers continue that ministry for the perfecting of the saints (Eph 4:11-12). He Who loved the Church and gave Himself for it, now lives for it and waits expectantly in the heavens until that moment when He will come for her and redeem His purchased possession.
For the individual believer, the ascension of Christ brings great assurance and comfort. It was when He had by Himself purged our sins that He ascended and sat down. This is confirmation indeed that the work of the cross has satisfied all the divine claims. God’s heart and throne have been satisfied, and in certain recognition of this God has raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand (Eph 1:20). God “raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory,” so that, writes Peter, “your faith and hope might be in God (1 Pet 1:21). With our Savior seated in the heavens, we cannot doubt. All is assured.
For the world, the enthronement of Christ brings a three-fold indictment. The world that cast Him out stands indicted on these three counts. First, “of sin, because they believe not on Me” (John 16:9). He was the faithful and true witness. He was the very exegesis of the God Whom they had never seen. He declared the Father, fully and faithfully, but they did not believe. For the sin of unbelief the world stands accused before God by the ascension of Him Whom they cast out. Second, the world is indicted in the matter of righteousness. Twice in those early days the apostles preached Christ as “the Just One” (Acts 7:52; 22:14). Even as the pagan Roman governor insisted, “I find no fault in Him,” they were shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” They denied the Holy One and the Just and desired a murderer (Acts 3:14). Now, since He has gone to the Father, they stand accused in the matter of His righteousness (John 16:10). Third, the exaltation and enthronement of Christ spells the judgment of the world, and not the judgment of men only but the judgment of their prince too (John 16:11). How grateful we are for those faithful records of the ascension from Olivet of Him Who is now “The Man in the glory”!
We did not mark the chosen few,
When Thou did’st through the clouds ascend,
First lift to heaven their wondering view,
Then to the earth all prostrate bend;
But we believe that mortal eyes
Beheld that journey to the skies.