As mentioned on Sunday, “Ascension Day” falls 40 days after Easter (meaning last Thursday was technically the true “Ascension Day”). For centuries, many Christian traditions have formally remembered and celebrated this Biblical event, recorded most extensively in Acts 1:6-11.
However, many Christians like us (and churches like ours) don’t give Jesus’s ascension its due. We thank God for Jesus’s birth at Christmas, we remember Jesus’s death for our sins on Good Friday, and we praise God for Jesus’s resurrection on Easter. But Jesus’s ascension? Well…that often gets the shaft. We simply don’t think about it that much.
But why is Jesus’s ascension important? I can’t possibly give an exhaustive argument in one simple devotion, but here are a few points to consider:
First, Jesus’s ascension is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 110 is the most-quoted psalm in the New Testament. Jesus quoted it concerning his own identity as greater than King David (Matthew 22:44). Peter quotes it in his first sermon after Jesus’s resurrection (Acts 2:34-35). The author of Hebrews quotes it in his letter (Hebrews 1:13). Psalm 110:1 reads: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Jesus understood Psalm 110:1 to be a prophecy about him, and so did other New Testament authors. Jesus’s ascension was clearly an important part of their preaching, teaching, and writing from day one! Our ascended Lord is sitting at God’s right hand, and this is a fulfillment of God’s word from generations earlier.
Second, Jesus’s ascension affirms what he did before: namely his life, death, and resurrection. The Apostle Paul hints at Jesus’s ascension in Philippians 2:5-11. Paul writes that God the Father “highly exalted” Jesus the Son following his humble, obedient, and faithful submission to death – even death on a cross. In a sense, Jesus’s ascension is his reward for a job well done. It affirms everything he did before. Jesus’s work is satisfactory. His offering is sufficient. His work is complete (at least for now; more on that in a moment), and he has received his reward – which means you can be confident that by God’s grace, through faith, you’ll receive your reward as well.
Third, Jesus’s ascension puts him in a place of power and authority. In the ancient world, sitting at a monarch’s right hand was a place of honor and prestige. Our ascended Lord – the one who once mounted a rugged and despicable cross – now sits in the highest place of power and authority imaginable: the right hand of God. Paul gets at this in Ephesians 1:20-22, writing that Jesus now sits “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” In short, God has made Jesus king over all; in a way, the ascension is his coronation.
Fourth, Jesus’s ascension gives him something to do before his return. Our Lord isn’t just sitting around, twiddling his thumbs until he returns! He intercedes for us from God’s right hand (Romans 8:34). Even as Christ sits in heaven, he is with us as we go out into the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus didn’t just do something for his people a long time ago, and isn’t just going to do something for his people some unknown day in the future; Jesus is at work for you, with you, and through you at this very moment. Knowing that – as Paul also says in Romans 8 – who is to condemn us? Nobody.
Fifth, last, and closely related to point four: Jesus’s ascension gives us a preview of our future. In Acts 1:6-11, the two angels who appear to the disciples at Jesus’s ascension don’t just explain what occurred then; they immediately shift the disciples’ attention to what will happen in the future. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b). Jesus is in heaven; and one day, all who believe in him will be in heaven as well. Heaven is where God is; and one day, our ascended Lord will descend once again, bringing heaven with him once and for all.
So why does Jesus’s ascension matter? The reasons above barely begin to scratch the surface. It’s amazing to see how God fulfills his word from generations earlier through Jesus (Psalm 110 is only one of many others). It’s encouraging for believers to know – with certainty – that God the Father has accepted Jesus’s death and resurrection on our behalf, and rewarded him for it. It’s awe-inspiring to consider Jesus’s heavenly and eternal authority and power over all. It’s comforting to know that at this very moment, Jesus is at work for us, through us, and with us. And it’s humbling to consider that one day, we too will be in God’s presence forever. Remember all of this as you work, serve, and pray.
Honoring Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection comes pretty naturally for most Christians. No Christian can overlook Christmas and Easter! But may we not neglect or forget to celebrate Jesus’s ascension. And may we look forward to the day when we will be with him.
“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)