The Ascension of Christ into Heaven
The Ascension of Christ into Heaven
All of the life of Christ is a part of the plan of God the Father in the rescue of His elect and the world from the effects of sin. The Father's plan is not simply in the salvation of individual souls, great as the salvation of one soul is, but in the making and keeping of a people for himself, through Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The world was prepared for the coming of the Christ through the people that God chose for himself, this time of preparation culminating in the holy conception and birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. In the death of Christ on the cross is seen the act of the Saviour in bearing sin and the anger of God against that sin, so that His people may be forgiven their sins. In the resurrection is seen the coming to life of the Saviour, that the people of God might also live for ever, in Him. But what about the ascension of Christ into heaven, forty days after he rose from the dead? How does this fit into the rescue work of God?
The ascension is also an essential work of Christ in the history of salvation. It is not to be seen as simply a going home of the Son of God, after a mission accomplished on earth, there to remain in the presence of God in heaven until such time as he may return to earth.
One clue to the significance of the ascension can be gained from Leviticus 16. This chapter has the detailed instruction from God about the Day of Atonement for His Old Testament people. The High Priest was to kill one of the sacrificial goats – the other was to be set loose in the desert – then take some of the blood of the goat into the most holy place in the Tabernacle. Only the priest could enter the most holy place, and that only once a year, carrying the blood of the sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people, and his own sin.
Hebrews 9:23-26 gives the inspired interpretation of this event with regard to Christ. Christ has entered the most holy place, heaven itself, the very presence of God the Father, carrying the blood of sacrifice; not the sacrifice of an animal, but His own blood. Just as in Leviticus 16, the carrying of the blood into the presence of God was part of the atonement made, so the carrying by Christ of His own blood into the presence of God in heaven is part of the atonement of the cross. One essential act of Christ in His priestly office was to take His own blood to the presence of God, and there for it to remain, for the sacrifice he made was perfect for all time, and need not be repeated again and again. In this way the ascension is essential for the atonement, and so is essential for the rescue plan of God.
The week before His death, Christ rode in triumph into the city of Jerusalem, in fulfilment of the Scriptures. The joy and excitement and sense of event, and the cries of "Hosanna to the Son of David" made His triumphal entry the coronation procession of a King. Yet His coronation from the hand of God the Father had to wait until he had done battle on behalf of His people.
The ascension marked the final stage in the coronation procession of Christ before he went into the presence of God to receive the crown, and the authority of the ruler of the earth. All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Christ at His resurrection from the dead, but he must ascend into heaven to receive His crown, and sit as ruler at the right hand of the Father. It is as the supreme ruler that the Father says to the Son "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (Psalm 2). It is as ruler of heaven and earth that Christ is able to gather in a people for himself, on behalf of the Father, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit←⤒🔗
The work of the Spirit is essential in the rescue operation of Christ, to gather a people of God from the entire human race. But without the ascension of Christ into heaven, there could have been no coming of the Holy Spirit, because Christ said that if he did not go away, the Spirit would not come (John 16:7), and it is recorded in John's Gospel again that,
Up to that time the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.John 7:39
It is only through the work of the Spirit that the sacrifice of Christ is made effective in the world. The Spirit convicts people of sin, so that they know they are in need of salvation; then he directs them to Christ as the only one who can give that salvation. The Spirit takes what is Christ's and brings it to us. Not only does he cause the conversion of individual sinners, he builds them up into a body of Christ, and gives growth to that body, furnishing the individual members with spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of all.
The Glorious Ascension←⤒🔗
The ascension of Christ is a glorious event, and part of His own glory, since He will return to earth in the same way in which He went into heaven (Acts 1:11). His return will be with great glory, and with the clouds of heaven, as was His going. The cloud which received Christ from the sight of the Apostles was the cloud representing the glory of God. It was there when Christ was transfigured on the mount, and His glory was revealed. Christ is the Son of Man who comes in the clouds of heaven, and whose Kingdom will have no end (Daniel 7:13-14). The Kingdom is finally the glorified people of God, saved from out of the whole earth, through the completed work of the atonement, the rule of Christ and the work of the sent Holy Spirit.
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