Theology 101 — Ascension Significance (1 of 5)comment (0)
May 1, 2014
By Jerry Batson
As noted last week, in the Christian calendar Ascension Day occurs 40 days after Easter, putting it in the sixth week after Easter. This year’s Ascension Day will be the fifth Thursday of this month, May 29. That Thursday incidentally coincides with the issue date of the last May issue of The Alabama Baptist. Counting this week, that gives us five sessions in Theology 101 to think about the ascension of Christ. Last week, we also took notice that the ascension was an essential part of Christ’s exaltation. His three-stage exaltation began with resurrection, continued with the ascension and ended with His enthronement at the Father’s right hand.
When we read the New Testament through an “ascension lens,” we may be surprised at the frequency with which references and allusions to Christ’s ascension occur. In this first of the five weeks dealing with this theme, let us simply take note of a sampling of what we might read with our “ascension lens” in place. Not only will this sensitize us to the frequency of mention and doctrinal significance of the ascension of Christ, it also will set us up for the next four weeks of looking into some significant aspects of the ascension.
Jesus alluded to His ascension while speaking to the disciples in the upper room the night before His crucifixion. In the beloved passage about the Father’s house, Jesus declared, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Shortly after those words, He spoke about one who believes being able to do greater works, saying, “Greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). The ascension was His “going to the Father.”
Jesus referred to His ascension on the day of His resurrection when Mary Magdalene clung to Him in joy. His rationale for stopping her was, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and Your Father, to My God and your God’” (John 20:17).
In an exalted passage about grace gifts for believers, Paul linked Jesus’ incarnation with His ascension by referring to Psalm 68:18 (which speaks of ascending) by commenting, “In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the One who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:9–10).
Paul reminded Timothy of the “mystery of godliness” with the poetic liturgy that ends with a reference to Christ’s ascension: “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
Hebrews 4:14 encourages us to steadfastness of faith by making reference to the ascension: “Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
At the end of a difficult and much-debated passage about “spirits in prison,” Peter wrote a clear and ringing affirmation about Jesus and His ascension and preeminence, saying that He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers having been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).
This sampling of ascension references in varied places of the New Testament serves to whet our appetites for further thinking about the doctrinal significance of Christ’s ascension.