Typically and tragically modern Christians have no concept of Ascension Sunday.
Too often it is ignored, neglected, overlooked or just written off as something
dead liturgical churches do. However when we consider what Scripture has to
say about this important event, it is mind-boggling to think how it has been
If there were any events in human history, which need to be commemorated as historically significant, thoughtful Christians would have to put the Ascension of Jesus Christ in the front rank. The Ascension is not to be understood as a trick of levitation, but rather as an event, which signaled the transition from the old heavens and earth to the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells. We live in a new earth because Jesus Christ was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. The old heavens and earth are passing away and the new heavens and earth are being established by the gospel (Isa 65:17-25).
Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness. He was crucified under the greatest contempt possible with people taunting Him; “You saved others, save yourself.” “If you are the Messiah then come down from the cross.” They spit upon Him, they scourged Him, and they plucked out His beard, yet in that apparent defeat Jesus Christ threw down all the principalities and powers of evil. He conquered all wickedness at that moment on the cross.
The wickedness He was conquering did not understand what was happening at the time. Unfortunately many of us who have been saved by the power of the cross don’t seem to understand what has happened either. We still don’t seem to understand what actually took place when Jesus was crucified dead on the cross, when He was buried in the grave and when the Lord God our Father vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead.
In Revelation 11:15-16 we find some glorious words. I do hope Handel has heightened the meaning of this verse for you as he has for me. I can’t read this verse without singing it and giving these words the glory they deserve. We see that when Jesus Christ is exalted, God the Father is worshiped. When we honor Jesus Christ, it brings us into a position of humility before God the Father. When we fall on our faces and worship God then we are lifted up. When we humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up as a worthy bride for the bridegroom Jesus Christ.
We have to watch ourselves carefully. It is perilously easy for us to read passages like this, and then smoothly, glibly, and wrongly relegate them as carriers of some sort of “spiritual truth.” And in this fatal compromise, that we treat the enthronement of Jesus Christ as though it were irrelevant to the course of human history, and to the behavior of all creatures occupying other thrones. But Scripture does not give us this report so that we may ignore the ramifications of it.
Psalm 2 tells us that when the Messiah is enthroned all He has to do is ask and it will be done. “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession” (v 8). We know this has happened because in the Great Commission Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Jesus is saying all authority is mine — I own the heavens and I own the earth. There is not one square inch that is not under my authority. This is not some kind of “spiritual truth” which can be separated from all other actual truth. In other words, Jesus is King in heaven and on earth.
We recognize this truth on our dates. We say 2003 AD, Anno Domini, in year of our Lord. The pagans seem to be far more aware of the significance that we Christians. That is why they have started using things like BCE - Before the Common Era. When people try to pull that garbage off, ask them why. Why is it the Common Era? Jesus Christ is the King of the World, including the foolishness we have here in scholasticism. We must be careful not to allow it to become irrelevant.
When the Lord ascended into heaven, this appeared to those on earth as a simple departure. 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. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus will return in the same manner in which He left. His mode of departure, and the appearance of the angels, should tell us that this is an event of enormous significance. There will be a second coming. He will raise the dead. He will judge the world.
We must understand Jesus was crucified on a cross, buried in a tomb and rose to life. He has ascended into heaven to take His place on the throne. If you were standing there as one of the disciples you would have been asked by the angels, “Why are you looking up to heaven? You have some work to do. The king has taken His place. He is in session; now get to work. You must pray, preach and fulfill the Great Commission.” This means through the preaching and proclamation of the gospel, the Christian faith is a religion of world conquest.
Anything less that an understanding of world conquest is a compromise of fatal significance; Jesus Christ has commanded us to go and preach the gospel to every nation. And He did not command us to go expecting that they would all reject it. He expects us to win the victory. He expects us to disciple the nations.
The significance of the ascension of Jesus is lost unless we wisely look at these things from God"s perspective. The same event viewed from heavenward takes on another significance entirely. Jesus had warned about this at His trial. “But He kept silent, and made no answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." And tearing his clothes, the high priest said^, "What further need do we have of witnesses? "You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (Mark 14:61-64).
The high priest reacted in this way because he knew his Old Testament better than most modern Christians do. He knew what Jesus was referring to by this language, and the significance of it. The high priest did not tear his robes because he understood an eschatological system developed in the nineteenth century. He was not outraged because Jesus was claiming to be able to return in some secret rapture or rebuild the temple. He was upset because he knew Jesus was identifying Himself as the Son of Man.
The language about “coming on the clouds of heaven” is taken from the book of Daniel. The assumption is this passage in Daniel is referring to the Second Coming, but it is not referring to the Second Coming, or of a coming to earth at all. It is a prophecy of the Ascension, and of the Coronation that is the result of it. “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:13-14).
When the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven, where does He come? He does not come to earth like some try to say in Matthew 24:30. Rather He comes to the Ancient of Days. This is clearly not a coming to earth; this is a coming to heaven.
So when the high priest asks Jesus, “Are you the son of the blessed?” Jesus responds, “I am,” echoing the words of God with Moses. The kingdom and dominion that Jesus has received is an everlasting one that will not be destroyed. This was enough to make the high priest tear his robes. This is enough to make an earthly ruler who does not want to share any power or position furious.
Because Jesus Christ comes to the Ancient of Days, He is given a seat of authority and this seat of authority will have an impact and a result among the nations. This makes sense of the statement Jesus makes to the high priest, “You shall see this.” Jesus did not misspeak these words He was not talking about the second coming. Jesus did not say to the high priest in the first century, two thousand years from now you will see. No the reign and rule of Jesus Christ has already begun. This is what we see in Psalm 2. This Psalm is quoted a number of times in the New Testament. These many quotations should be abundantly clear; Jesus is reigning in the here and now.
“Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession” (Psalm 2:8). God the Father ask, “Do you want all the tribes? You can have them. Do you want all the kings of the nations? You’ve got them.”
Why would Jesus want them? They are stubborn, disobedient and rebellious. Jesus wants the nations so that He can draw them into salvation. This is God’s purpose to save the world. Those who resist will be judged. Those who submit to King Jesus will be blessed. All of us will be blessed when we acknowledge who Lord Jesus is. The nations will be blessed when they acknowledge the Lord Jesus.
Jesus Christ is given absolute dominion and there is no wiggle room. From the Secretary General of the United Nations to the secretary of the Lions club, all authority is His. Our task is to live as if we believe it and declare it to others who pretend not to believe it.
Our task as Christians is not to go out into the world and ask the world if they would like to make Jesus Lord. Jesus doesn’t have to be made Lord by anyone but God the Father. In the Ascension, Coronation and Session of Jesus Christ we see the Father has already made Jesus Lord two thousand years ago. God has made Him, declared Him, and established Him as Lord. Our task is to declare this to the nations. We are not going out into the world trying to make it so. Instead we are going out into the world proclaiming it is so and it has been so for many years.
This means that Jesus has been given a name above every name, whether in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth. And this means that every tongue must confess Him, and every knee must bow. And this means that this is what we are calling the nations to — complete obedience. This doctrine underscores the crown rights of our Lord and King Jesus Christ. His task will not be satisfied until the goal is met. The goal is every king, every nation, every tongue, every parliament, every state house, every local authority; every one acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Fully God and fully man, He came to earth to die for the sins of the world and has secured the salvation of this world. He has now ascended into heaven and has been seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is reigning and ruling until all His enemies have been made a footstool.
The historical church has recognized this truth from the beginning. This is what got Paul and the early Christians into trouble with the Roman authorities. They were declaring “No King but Jesus!” Now look at the church today. We have drifted from our glorious heritage like the prodigal we are looking longingly at the pods in the feeding trough. We need to repent and go back.
There is one stipulation — the meek shall inherit the earth. Some of the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the villages that were not receptive to the gospel. Jesus said we will conquer the nations another way. We will conquer the nations by declaring the gospel, by living the gospel, by submitting to the gospel. We will declare to the nations Jesus Christ is King when we live out the gospel with one another. We are to do it with confidence that it will happen. It may not happen on our timetable but we must do it. We must go. Therefore, we are told, “go ye into all the world and act like you own the place.” Go because Jesus Christ is the King of the Ivory Coast. Go because Jesus Christ is King of Zambia. He is the king of the nations who have never heard. He is the king of the nations who have once submitted but have apostatized and fallen away. He is the King of nations like ours. This is the declaration we make to the nations. The gates of hell will not stop the progress of Jesus’ Kingdom. We issue them the terms of surrender, as set forth in the Word of God.
What are the means God has given us for this task? The Word, The Holy Spirit and the Supper. When we gather for worship we need to see ourselves taking another shot with the battering ram. When we pray for that end we will start hearing the wood splinter on the gates of hell. This is what we are doing here on earth. This is why when God saved us He did not immediately transport us up to heaven. God wants the power of the gospel to conquer the world. We have work to do.