Ascension from Earth to Heaven
Ascension from Earth to Heaven
Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended from earth into heaven. The ascension took place in the midst of Christ’s disciples. Actually, we read in Acts 1 that the disciples saw Jesus Christ being taken up until a cloud hid Him from their eyes. In other words, there is no eyewitness of Jesus Christ entering the place called heaven. Nevertheless, we know that the ascension of Christ was a literal going from earth into heaven. Christ himself had spoken of His imminent ascension a number of times to His disciples, and we read in Acts 1:11 that at the ascension two angels announced to the disciples: “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Later on, in Acts 7, we have the eyewitness account of Stephen who saw the heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. The ascension of Jesus Christ from earth into heaven is a clear teaching of the Scriptures which is to be received in faith.
This ascension is of monumental importance to us. It is to be seen in the light of the whole history of redemption. The ascension from earth into heaven connects the dwelling place of man with the dwelling place of God. Heaven and earth, the dwelling of God and man, is something introduced to us on the opening pages of the Scriptures. We know that in Paradise there was a perfect communion between God and man. There was the beautiful promise of God to man regarding eternal life and therefore an eternal communion between God and man. In that promise there is also the indication that the dwelling of God would be with man and that heaven and earth would be one. However, the fall into sin put a terrible rift between God and man and thus between heaven and earth. The dwelling of God is not to be in the midst of sinners. This is why Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28 is so meaningful and promising. We are told the contents of that dream: He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.” Because of God’s grace and promises, heaven and earth are not torn irreparably apart: there is a connection, a stairway, from earth to heaven. God stands at the top of the stairway to pour the blessings of an open heaven to the earth. Angels are ascending and descending for the benefit of God’s covenant people who live under an open heaven and a loving Father. Now it is important to note that in John 1:51, at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus Christ clarifies that He is that stairway, He is the connection between earth and heaven, He opens heaven once again to the earth.
The reason why Jesus Christ could be the connection between heaven and earth and thus draw the dwelling of God and man closer together brings us to the very heart of the gospel. This is something that has been so clearly and richly foreshadowed in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of animal sacrifice to make atonement for the sins of the people. The Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that this blood could never take away sins. What it did very clearly and admirably, however, is point to the great high priest Jesus Christ who would make the perfect once for all sacrifice with His own blood to pay for the sins of His people. Jesus Christ fulfilled all righteousness. He was obedient to all the demands of God’s law and He obediently took our sins on Himself and paid for those sins by His death on the altar of God’s justice and wrath. The shedding of His blood was the perfect, once for all sacrifice for our sins. This was confirmed when the Father rewarded Jesus Christ with a resurrection from the dead on the third day.
The ascension is the logical consequence to the resurrection. We see this so clearly in a passage such as Hebrews 9. Even as the Old Testament high priests entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of atonement, so Jesus Christ who made the true sacrifice for sins, had to enter the greater and more perfect tabernacle, to present himself to the Father as the one who had paid the ransom for sin and now had the right to be accepted into the Most Holy Place. Notice how calm and natural the act of Christ’s ascension was. He did not have to force his way into heaven, nor did heaven force its way into the earth, storming Jesus Christ away with fiery chariots! Jesus Christ ascended into heaven naturally, blessing His disciples as He went, for it was His right to enter into heaven. He had made the sacrifice which was acceptable to God and which reconciled God to sinners. Now God and His dwelling place were wide open to man and the earth. There is a stairway between earth and heaven, and that stairway is Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and man. As Christ said in John 14:6:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
This has profound implications for those who by God’s grace believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. We have in heaven, which is now open to us, an Advocate who daily turns His Father’s eyes to His own righteousness, so that daily the Father forgives the sins of those who come to Him on the basis of Christ’s blood. We are encouraged in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heaven is open to us, God’s justice has been satisfied, and Jesus Christ is a merciful and sympathetic high priest who understands our weaknesses and shortcomings and therefore continues to plead for us to the Father. We may, therefore, with confidence approach the throne of God’s grace. This wonderful truth should be firmly engraved on our heart. Every day we should draw near to God in prayer and from the heart confess our sins to God, knowing that for the sake of Christ He will forgive us and send us on our way rejoicing! This is true for any and all sins that we commit. When we fall into a particularly hideous sin, or we find that we have sinned over and over again when we knew better, we need not doubt whether Jesus Christ would plead our case under such circumstances and whether the Father would be willing to forgive us. Remember how in His ministry Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel, going even to the tax collectors and harlots. He said in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” No matter how terribly we have sinned or how often, Jesus Christ, our merciful high priest, encourages us to come to Him, confessing our sin, and He promises us that He will turn the eyes of His Father to His precious blood offered on the cross. We will go our way rejoicing!
We know from the Old Testament that after the high priest sprinkled the blood of atonement on the mercy seat within the Most Holy Place, he quickly returned to his place among his people. Why does Jesus Christ not return from heaven and dwell with His church on earth? Of course there is a progression from Old Testament times: heaven has been opened to the earth and therefore Jesus Christ is never far away. There is also something else to consider. In John 14 and 16 Jesus Christ made very clear that it is to our advantage that He goes away. We have already seen how that is the case because Christ daily acts as our Advocate before the Father. But Christ also promised in John 14:2, 3:
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Our Saviour is preparing a place for all those whom He redeemed so the day may come when we will be all together in the New Jerusalem. Surely we can wait a little while without seeing Jesus Christ face to face, knowing that soon the dwelling of God will be with man and then we can see Christ face to face forever.
Another blessing of Christ’s ascension is that He is crowned as King at His Father’s right hand as promised in Psalm 110. He has been given the scroll of history so that He controls and governs everything that happens in this world by His almighty power. And what do you think He is doing with His power and government? He is seeking the welfare of His Church so that not one person for whom He shed His blood will be snatched back by Satan to become a citizen of hell. We know and trust that everything which happens in and around our lives, and in the whole world, is being orchestrated by Christ in such a way that it serves the glory of His Name and the coming of His kingdom.
Christ added one very specific advantage of His going away to heaven. He said in John 16:7:
I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
He was speaking here about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. When Christ dwelt on earth in human flesh, He was restricted as to how many people He could meet and how many places He could visit. With the sending of His Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ can work much more powerfully and effectively for the coming of His kingdom and the gathering of His church. Now through the spreading of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ can reach all areas of this earth, bringing people to faith, leading them to the throne of grace, turning them into obedient citizens of the kingdom of heaven who seek their commonwealth in heaven.
Christ is never absent from us. In His divinity, majesty, grace and Spirit He is always with us. He makes us experience the reality of an open heaven. He leads us daily to the welcoming arms of His Father. He leads us through life experiencing the joy of the forgiveness of sins and being able to use our lives in His service, as we fix our minds not on the things of this world, but lift our eyes on high to Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. Moreover, we know that our entire life rests secure in the hands of our King. He is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house. The day will come soon enough when we will see Jesus Christ returning in the same way as He went into heaven, only this time it will not be to offer himself again, but it will be to take us to himself forever by establishing heaven on earth. As we are promised on the final pages of the Scriptures:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
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