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The Theology of Christ’s Ascension

John 16:5 "But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' 6 "But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

 

Introduction

This morning as we come celebrating Christ’s Ascension, I want us to take a moment to understand the importance of this event.

 

Too often, we as the people of God, rush from the Resurrection straight to Pentecost and all but ignore the Ascension. However, if we stop and listen to Scripture what we find is that the blessings of Pentecost are the direct result of the Ascension. In fact, in the passage we just read, Jesus says that without the Ascension there would be no Pentecost.

 

Therefore, this morning I want us to ask two basic questions

·      Why is the Ascension so important

·      What is the connection between the Ascension and Pentecost 

 

A] The Ascension serves as an Explanation: The ascension provides a public explanation to the question, “where is the living Christ now?”

John 16:28 "I came from the Father, and entered the world; now I am leaving the world, and going back to the Father."

 

 

B] The Ascension underscores the completion of salvation

Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,

However, if we stop there, we will miss a crucial aspect of the Ascension. Not only that, we will leave the vital connection between the Ascension and Pentecost ambiguous at best. Remember, Jesus did not say, “Before I pour out my Holy Spirit upon you, I must first be raised from the grave”. Instead, He said, I must first ascend to the Father and then I will pour out my Holy Spirit”. Why? What is the relationship between the Ascension and Pentecost?

 

 

C] The Ascension as Presentation: Christ ascends to heaven in order to present Himself and the new life He accomplished to God. [Notice then the progression: the Cross paid the full price of sin. The Resurrection is proof that the payment was accepted. The Ascension then is the presentation of this salvation to God on behalf of all believers].

Importance: notice at once that we find this very same pattern in the very heart of Old Testament worship (a sacrifice is made, it is deemed acceptable, and then it is presented to God).

Leviticus 16:15 "And Aaron shall slaughter (on the alter) the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and then bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat (i.e. the payment is presented to God and is before God).

Notice then the point: it is not enough that a payment is available. It’s not enough that that payment is sufficient and acceptable to cover the cost. The payment actually has to be given to the one to whom it is owed.

Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. [see also Heb 9:24]

Bottom line: The Ascension is the presentation of the completed work of salvation to God on our behalf.

 

 

D] The Ascension as Application: the Ascension means that Christ, our sacrifice and new life, is continually before God on our behalf. The result is that God now responds to His people in light of Christ and His completed work. As such, at the heart of the Ascension is the idea that the new life Christ accomplished and then presented is now applied to His people.

Leviticus 16:21 "Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness. 

{Note 16:21 is a reenactment, an enacted parable, done in full view of all the people of what just happened behind the veil in 16:15. Notice then the message: God now deals with His people in terms of the accepted sacrifice just presented to Him and not their sins.}

Hebrews 9:24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

 

Importance: at once the Ascension solidifies our hope- Because Christ, the whole of our salvation, is ever present before God on our behalf, we have the assurance that whenever God turns to deal with us, respond to us, or answer any of our prayers, He does so “in remembrance of me”. That is He does so on the basis of Christ’s onetime all sufficient sacrifice.

Revelation 5:6 And I saw standing between the throne (of God) and the elders (the Church) a Lamb, as if slain,

 

Bottom line: The salvation accomplished on the Cross, accepted in the Resurrection, and presented at the Ascension is now applied to God’s people. How do we know?

 

 

E] Pentecost as Proof- Pentecost is the proof that God now deals with His people in terms of Christ’s sacrifice. How? On Pentecost God poured out His Holy Spirit to administer and apply the new life to His people.

Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

Bottom line: Pentecost is the fruit (or result) of the Ascension. It is the proof that the salvation accomplished, accepted and presented to the Father has been applied to His people Fn#1&2.

 

 

Foot Notes

1] A vital point that must be noted is the fact that the Ascension marks the beginning of Christ’s reign in His human nature. In fact, one of the main ways that God responds to us in light of Christ’s Sacrifice is by seating Christ (our representative) at His right hand as King over all creation. Thus, Christ’s reign is an important aspect of the administration/application of the new life He accomplished and presented on our behalf.

Ephesians 1:20 He raised Christ from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,

Importance: the Ascension means that our advocate, the one who champions our cause, now sits enthroned as the Lord of all creation directing the whole of existence according to His plan for His people. To put it another way, the new life that Christ accomplished for us and which is now being applied on our behalf, is cosmic in its extent.

 

Notice then the Centrality of the Ascension and Christ’s reign:

The Ascension is at the heart of God’s plan of salvation and therefore, is at the heart of the new life which that salvation bestows. As such, we confront the significance of the Ascension at every turn. For example:

 

a. The Ascension anchors our reorientation- When James says that you have been radically reoriented to all reality, that reorientation is anchored on the fact that Christ (your representative and advocate) is seated at the right hand of God and is governing all reality according to God’s promises to you.

Ephesians 1:22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,

 

b. The Ascension is at the heart of our mission- if the Ascension means that Christ is governing all creation and unfolding His plan for His people, then our mission and our labor are a share in the work of this reign (the Ascension then is at the core of the content of our daily labor)

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness;

 

c. The Ascension solidifies our hope- the Ascension grounds the hope that we have in certainty. Because Christ is reigning and because His purpose will not fail, we know that our labor today is not in vain nor will our hope for tomorrow fall short. Instead God will provide exactly what He has promised

Matthew 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

 

d. The Ascension underwrites the power and effectiveness of prayer- the confidence we have in prayer rests in the fact that Christ our full sacrifice is every before the Father. In other words, God sees and deals with you in remembrance of Christ.

{Importance: the very dynamic God gives to you as you approach Him in the heavenly Holy of holies is the same dynamic with which God seated in that Holy of holies approaches you- in both cases the approach is in terms of/ remembrance of/on the basis of Christ’s full merit not your own}

Not only that, Christ is before the Father interceding on your behalf. That is, Christ asks the Father to respond to your cries and needs with the fullness of the new life that He accomplished for you.

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is He who died (Cross), yes, rather who was raised (Resurrection), who is at the right hand of God (Ascension), who indeed intercedes for us.

 

 

2] Notice at once: Daniel chapter 7 provides a stunning picture of the Ascension. However, Daniel’s vision views the Ascension from the top down. That is, while the disciples watch as Christ is taken up into the Shekinah Glory Cloud to heaven, Daniel is allowed in his vision to see the other side of this event. Thus, Daniel watches as Christ, who has just departed from the Disciples, arrives in heaven and enters the heavenly Holy of holies. Compare:

 

Acts 1:9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

 

Daniel 7:13 "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, One like a Son of Man was coming with the clouds of heaven, And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 "And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.

 

Note, Daniel provides one of the most concise theologies of the Ascension in all of Scripture. Remember the Ascension may be summarized in two words:

  1. Presentation- The sacrifice offered on the Cross and shown accepted by the Resurrection, is presented at the ascension
  2. Application- the completed, accepted, and presented work of salvation is then applied to God’s people. The Result is that Christ is seated as King and given dominion over all Creation. His reign then is an unfolding of the salvation, kingdom, and Kingdome life He accomplished. As such, He pours His Spirit out on the Church, both applying the work of salvation to them and equipping each believer for their share in work of Christ’s reign.

Both of these elements (Presentation and Application/Reign) are front and center in Daniel’s vision.

 

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