Last time, we looked at the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ mainly from the perspective of the disciples, whose testimony is recorded for us in the Gospels and Acts 1: how He “went up,” was “taken up,“ “carried up,” and “received up.” It is very difficult for us to even begin to envisage the magnitude of His exaltation, but we are helped in endeavoring to do so by Scripture references to Him in relation to “the heavens” or “heaven” or “heavenly places.” We can consider His relationship to these from three usages of these words.
First, these terms are sometimes used in a general sense, to denote that sphere which is without the earth. Several times in Ephesians we read of “heavenly places” which stand in contrast to this (earthly) sphere, and Paul states that He is there: “He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20, KJV). Elsewhere it is called “the heavens.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb 8:1, KJV). In Acts 2:34-35 Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost that “David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool.” Peter had just said of David that “he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day” (v29, KJV). As far as his body was concerned, David was still very much confined to this earth. Not so our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in this truth: He has departed from this scene of His rejection and sufferings; He has “ascended into the heavens.”
However, He is not unique in being there. There are others who are in “the heavenlies” including “the principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Eph 3:10, KJV). So we must look further, and we see that there is a second way in which “the heavens” is used, not now in a broad sense, of that which is in contrast to the earth, but of the material heavens – that vast expanse which includes the atmospheric region surrounding the earth, our solar system, our galaxy, and the vast extent of space, whose immensity is beyond what our minds can comprehend. The Scriptures speak of Him in relation to that.
In Hebrews 4:14 we read that “we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (KJV). The phrase translated “passed into” is one word, meaning “passed through,” as the Newberry margin indicates. Thus the thought here is not just that He has passed into the heavens, but that He has passed through them. He has “ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph 4:10, KJV). He, “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” was “made higher than the heavens” (Heb 7:26, KJV).
This great truth ought to thrill our hearts. We can gaze up into a clear night sky, and marvel at the beauty of distant stars and constellations. Technology has developed to such an extent that astronomers can now look far into space, and doubtless they long to see ever further. Yet, however far they may see, we know that our Savior has gone further. He has passed right through it all, and is far above it all.
Where did He reach when He went “higher than the heavens”? God’s Word gives us a clear answer, as it speaks of Him in relation to “heaven” used in a third way. Not only is He in “the heavenlies,” not only has He passed through the immense regions of space, but He is now in “heaven itself,” the very dwelling-place of God. “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” (Heb 9:24, KJV). He is now in the place that Paul calls “the third heaven” and “paradise” (2Cor 12:2, 4). Not for Him the atmospheric heavens, where the birds fly, or the stellar heavens, with its myriad galaxies, but “the third heaven,” where God’s throne is.
How kind is our God to us, in making it clear exactly where our Savior is! One of the disciples who witnessed His ascension wrote many years later concerning Him: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” (1Peter 3:22, KJV). Peter and his fellow apostles were not left with only His absence from earth and some vague idea about where He was. They were not even given just the knowledge that He was now “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21, KJV). No, they were told, three times in one sentence, that He was in heaven: “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, KJV).
When He was on earth, He asked, “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” (John 6:62, KJV). He has now ascended, and is back “where He was before.” His prayer has been fully answered: “And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5, KJV). And even that glorious reality does not tell the full story of His exaltation, for not only does He have all that He had before – He has even more. This will be our consideration next month, in His will.