A Bodily Ascension
Jesus didn’t leave His body behind. Nor did He get rid of it. The Incarnation wasn’t just a temporary thing: Christ is still fully God and fully Man. So, in the ascension it was the God-Man, the Incarnate Christ, who was taken up into heaven. And so now in heaven we have ‘one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5).
Ascended to Heaven
Jesus didn’t just disappear into the clouds; He went to heaven (Luke 24:51; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:11). It wasn’t simply the end of His earthly ministry, but the beginning of the Incarnate Christ’s heavenly ministry.
And it wasn’t just about a change in location. On the day of Pentecost, Peter spoke of the Ascension in terms of Jesus being ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33). Paul writes of the Ascension as Christ being ‘received up in glory’ (1 Tim 3:16). Thus, at the Ascension, Christ not only went up from earth to heaven, but He also arrived in heaven in a state of exaltation and glory. As God, Christ had enjoyed glory and exaltation with the Father even ‘before the world was’ (John 17:5), but then He had not been the God-Man. The Ascension involved the exaltation of Christ Incarnate.
In Mark’s account of the Ascension he tells us that Jesus ‘was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God’ (Mark 16:19). We call this sitting down of Christ at the right hand of God Christ’s Session. Peter tells us that Christ ‘has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God’ (1 Peter 3:22). Thus Christ is there now; this is His current position. The writer of Hebrew’s links Christ’s session with His atoning death: ‘when He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:3). His sitting down demonstrates that His atoning work is truly finished once and for all.
Assurance of Our Ascension
We don’t normally talk about the Ascension of believers, yet the Bible does teach that, at the return of Christ, living believers ‘shall be caught up … in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord’ (1 Thess. 4:17). Jesus Himself linked His Ascension with His coming again to catch up believers to Himself, saying ‘if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (Jn 14:3).
Baptism in the Spirit
During the Old Testament, no one was baptised in the Holy Spirit. Even during Jesus’ earthly ministry the Holy Spirit wasn’t poured out on His disciples. It was only after the Ascension that Christ baptised the believers in the Holy Spirit. John explains this, telling us that, during Christ’s earthly ministry, ‘Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7:39). When Jesus did ascend, ‘being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out’ the Spirit on the disciples (Acts 2:33). So we can only receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit because Jesus has ascended.
Head of the Church
The apostle Paul links Christ’s Ascension with His Headship of the Church (Eph 1:20-23). Thus the Ascension is of benefit to the Church here on earth, for through it we have the Lord Jesus Christ for our Head.
The Ascension did not only result in Christ’s Headship of the Church, but also in His gift of men to the church.
“ When He ascended on high,Thus we see another great benefit to the Church from the fact that Christ has ascended: Christ gives ministry gifts to the Church.
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph 4:8-12).
We have Ascended in Him
Although we look forward to our bodily ascension at His return, already we have ascended in Him. Just as we are united to Him in His death and resurrection, so we are united to Him in His ascension. In Christ, God has ‘raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6). In Him we have ascended and are seated in Him and with Him in heaven. That’s how we worship and that’s how we pray. And that’s how we feed on Christ at His Table too. By the Holy Spirit we are united to our ascended Saviour and lifted up to the heavenlies in Him.