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The ascension of Christ holds profound significance in Christian theology, marking a pivotal moment in the narrative of Jesus’ life and establishing essential theological doctrines. This event is recounted in the New Testament, specifically in the books of Luke and Acts, shedding light on the implications of Christ’s departure from Earth and His exaltation to the right hand of God.
The Ascension in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-53)
The Gospel of Luke narrates the ascension as the concluding episode of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Luke 24:50-53 (NKJV), we read, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.”
1. Affirmation of Christ’s Divinity
Jesus’ ascension underscores His divine nature. The act of being “carried up into heaven” signifies His transcendence beyond the earthly realm, emphasizing that Christ is not merely a prophet or teacher but the divine Son of God (John 1:1-3).
2. Blessing and Authority
The lifting up of His hands and the subsequent blessing before ascending symbolize Jesus’ bestowal of authority and blessing upon His disciples. This act is reminiscent of Old Testament priestly blessings, highlighting Christ as the ultimate High Priest (Hebrews 3:1).
3. Joyful Worship
The disciples’ response of worship and joy emphasizes the positive aspect of Christ’s departure. Far from being a moment of sorrow, the ascension becomes a cause for celebration as the disciples recognize the significance of what has transpired (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
The Ascension in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:9-11)
The book of Acts provides additional details regarding the ascension, offering insights into the disciples’ experience and the divine purpose behind this event.
In Acts 1:9-11 (NKJV), it is written, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'”
4. The Cloud and Divine Presence
The cloud receiving Jesus echoes the biblical motif of the cloud as a symbol of divine presence. This imagery harkens back to significant Old Testament events, such as the cloud covering Mount Sinai during the giving of the Law (Exodus 24:16). It reinforces the idea that Jesus’ ascension is a divine act with cosmic implications.
5. Promise of His Return
The angelic proclamation assures the disciples of Christ’s eventual return. This promise provides hope and anticipation for believers, emphasizing the cyclical nature of Christ’s redemptive work—His departure is followed by an assured return (John 14:1-3).
Doctrinal Significance of the Ascension
The ascension of Christ is integral to several key doctrines within Christianity, shaping the understanding of salvation, the role of Christ as mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
6. High Priestly Intercession
The Letter to the Hebrews elucidates the significance of Christ’s ascension in terms of His role as a High Priest. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) states, “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.” The ascension is portrayed as Christ passing through the heavens, entering the heavenly sanctuary to intercede on behalf of believers.
7. Seating at the Right Hand of God
The phrase “seated at the right hand of God” is a recurring motif in the New Testament, emphasizing Christ’s exaltation and authority. Ephesians 1:20-21 (NKJV) affirms, “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” This exalted position signifies Christ’s sovereignty over all creation.
8. The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
Jesus, in anticipation of His ascension, promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower and guide believers. Acts 1:8 (NKJV) records His words, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The ascension sets the stage for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, marking the beginning of the church age.
Practical Implications for Believers
9. Hope in Christ’s Return
The ascension instills hope in believers, reminding them that Christ’s departure is not permanent. The assurance of His return serves as a source of comfort and motivation for faithful living (Titus 2:13).
10. Empowerment through the Holy Spirit
The promise of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, made possible by Christ’s ascension, empowers believers for effective witness and Christian living. The transformative work of the Spirit is an ongoing manifestation of Christ’s redemptive plan (Acts 1:8).
The ascension of Christ, as depicted in the New Testament, holds multifaceted significance. It affirms the divinity of Jesus, emphasizes His authority and blessing, and sets the stage for crucial doctrinal developments. The ascension is not merely a historical event but a theological cornerstone that shapes Christian beliefs and practices.
As believers reflect on the ascension, they find assurance in Christ’s exalted position, hope in His promised return, and empowerment through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the ascension remains a central and transformative aspect of Christian faith.
In His service,