Going up

The meaning of the ascension

The east window at Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield.
The East Window at Holy Trinity Huddersfield, the top panel depicting the ascension of Jesus.

It all changed here

The ascension could be the forgotten feast of the Christian church, hidden as it is on a Thursday between the holidays of Easter and Pentecost. It also gets lost in theology. Evangelicals centre their beliefs on the cross, others on the incarnation and resurrection, Pentecostals and  charismatic have a lot to say about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and there’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches, we can learn a lot by listening to each other, but somewhere between Easter and Pentesost, we don’t know when, 40 days later is an old way of saying some time later, was the ascension, and it was the ascension that made all the difference to the disciples.

Something happened at the ascension of Jesus that changed the disciples. Before that, even after they had seen Jesus post resurrection they had returned to their homes in the north and back to their own jobs of fishing. The ascension is a crucial point for theology, by which I mean knowing what Jesus means to us rather than academic study in universities, but in the lives of the disciples there was not a lot of change. After the ascension of Jesus they were changed. They had the wrong reaction, they should have been despondent, after all, their leader had gone, but after the ascension, they worshipped Jesus. They travelled back to Jerusalem with great joy. They maintained a regular presence in the temple—worshipping God. They were changed people even before Pentecost.

Ascension promises

Before he returned to the Father Jesus made promises to his disciples:

  1. He will return to the earth. It is not a goodbye for ever. Evil has had its day and Jesus will return to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
  2. Jesus promised to be with them. He promised to send a comforter to be with them, the Holy Spirit: Yet that does not answer why the disciples were disturbed when first taught this before the crucifixion and yet had such a dramatic effect after the ascension.
  3. There was a visible ascension. Jesus rule at the right hand of the Father has begun, already begun, we do not have to wait Satan’s rule is over, he has no power over God’s people. Jesus is King of the Universe and there’s nothing Satan can do about it, all that Satan can do is to tempt us to forget that Jesus is King.

The penny had dropped, the disciples realised that Jesus reign had started. They praised God because Jesus was in control and they realised that the promised Holy Spirit was about to be poured out, what they had seen in the ministry of Jesus and experience when Jesus had sent them out was very soon to be theirs for good. No wonder they praised God.

Ascension benefits

There are many benefits of the ascension:

  1. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
    Heb. 10:11–14

    When Jesus ascended and sat down at the Father’s right hand, the Father verified the accomplishment of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed that the final payment for sin had been made.

  2. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
    1 John 2:1

    When Jesus ascended, the intercessory work of Jesus on behalf of His people began. In this ministry, we are assured that we will always have access to the Father forever.

  3. [Jesus]who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
    1 Peter 3:22

    When Jesus ascended, His eternal reign over all enemies began.

  4. [God the Father] put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.
    Ephesians 1:22–23

    Finally, when Jesus ascended, the church was empowered to accomplish its mission.

Is that not an adequate reason that we should praise God too?

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