Jesus Christ is the risen, ascended and glorified Son of God. This shows us that he was and is no ordinary man, but he is the ever-living God-man who is also our High Priest in heaven. Jesus has taken his human nature with him to heaven. This means his compassion is made all the more meaningful to us because he is not just divine, but is also fully human.
He remembers what it was like on the earth to go through the tests and temptations we all have to face. There is not one pain that we go through on the earth that Jesus does not also feel with us in heaven. This gives us confidence to come to him in our weakness and in our need.
In this series we have looked at two aspects of the life of Jesus that show him to be unique: his virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead. This article presents another unique event in Jesus’ earthly life – his ascension to heaven. The ascension of Jesus Christ completed his resurrection and commenced his exaltation at the Father’s right hand in heaven. Jesus has been exalted to sit on the executive seat of the government of God. This means he has all authority in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.
Paul describes the exaltation of Jesus:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
Ascension of Jesus – an historical fact of the gospel
Mark 16:19 & Luke 24:50-51 record Jesus’ departure from earth and reception into heaven, but they imply rather than record an ascension. Neither Matthew nor John mention Jesus’ departure from earth, but John 3:13; 6:62 and 20:17 predict his ascension very clearly.
Acts 1:1-11 is the fullest account of the ascension. It shows that the Son continued to prove “infallibly’ the resurrection for forty days, and to teach the disciples about the kingdom. He then commanded them to stay in Jerusalem until they are baptised in the Holy Spirit. The ascension itself is described in verse 9:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:9
Peter’s first sermon, in Acts 2:14-36, shows how the disciples understood the ascension. He says that God has exalted Jesus as the right hand of God, and – as a result – the Spirit has been poured out. Peter then quotes from Psalm 110:1 to support what he says, for, unlike king David, Jesus had ascended to heaven.
The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Psalms 110:1
Later, in Acts 3:21 & 5:31, Peter again describes the Son in terms of his ascended exaltation.
Paul affirms the ascension both directly and indirectly – as in Romans 10:6-7; Ephesians 1:20; 4:9-10; Colossians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Philippians 3:20 and 1 Timothy 3:16.
The ascension is also referred to in 1 Peter 3:18-22, and is the basic assumption behind all the heavenly activity recorded in Revelation.
The Compassionate God-man in heaven
The book of Hebrews concentrates more on the ascended Christ than any other part of the Bible. Jesus is always presented as the one who is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and we see his ascension, and its consequence, in 1:3; 4:14; 5:6; 6:20; 7:15-17, 21, 26; 8:1; 9:24; 10:12 and 12:2.
Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s right hand in heaven shows the completed work of the cross. He is seated in heaven, showing that his sacrificial work is completed (Hebrews 1:3-4;10:11-12).
Now, in heaven, he “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25). This means he acts as our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Hebrews 2:17)).
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took his humanity with him. He is still fully God and fully human. This last point is extremely significant for us as it means that the human Jesus is fully able to represent us before God. We don’t need any other mediator other than Jesus Christ, and indeed, as Paul shows, there is only one Mediator – Jesus.
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus 1 Timothy 2:5
The compassion of Jesus is made all the more meaningful to us because he is not just divine, but is also fully human. This means he remembers what it was like on the earth to go through the tests and temptations we all have to face. There is not one pain that we go through on the earth that Jesus does not also feel with us in heaven. This gives us confidence to come to him in our weakness and in our need.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
The present church age is the age of the risen and exalted Son, who is our mediator and intercessor; and our understanding of church history and current events must be shaped by our awareness of his exaltation-and-return – for, according to the Scriptures, the present is inextricably linked with the future: one day Jesus Christ is coming back to this earth and we shall see his glory!
Paul describes the exaltation of Jesus:
For example, the ascension was:
- the completion of the resurrection – as the resurrected conqueror of death, Jesus was the first fruit among his people; but as the ascended Son he carried forward that resurrection triumph to an exalted ministry on the part of his people.
- the beginning of exaltation and enthronement – Philippians 2:9-11 highlights the important present and future results of the ascension; the Son’s present enthroned position is an enormous ground for our hope and encouragement.
- the commencement of heavenly intercession – Christ’s work of mediation between God and humanity depended on the mediator’s entrance into heaven, just as the intercessory nature of the Jewish high priest depended on him gaining access to the holy of holies.
- the fulfilment of the divine mission – the Son’s mission on earth which began with the virgin birth ended with the ascension: the incarnation was the fully divine Son becoming flesh and becoming fully human; the ascension was the fully divine, fully human Son returning to the Father. At the ascension, Jesus took the evidence of human salvation (his “yes’ to God, his perfect obedience even to death on the cross) into the Father’s presence. As the ascension was God’s initiative, we can consider it to be God’s seal on the whole mission of Christ.
- the filling by Christ of all things – Ephesians 4:8-10 presents this as the reason for the ascension. The filling of all things by Christ is the gathering up of all things into his own perfection, and this could be achieved only by the exalted Son.
- the giving of the gift and gifts of the Holy Spirit – In John 7:39, Jesus stated that the Spirit would be given only when he was glorified, and this is what Ephesians 4:8 describes on the basis of Psalm 68:18. Pentecost, therefore, was conditional upon the ascension, and the events of Acts 2:33 are the direct sequel of the ascension.
- the opening of access for believers – as the Son gained access to the Father in the ascension, so he gained this right for all who are united to him. This means that Jesus’ ascension is one of the great grounds for Christian hope and confidence.
- the start of a new age – the present age of the church is framed by two unique events: it began with the Son’s ascension and it will end with his return – we see this link in Acts 1:11.