Ascension Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Ascension

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Ascension refers to the bodily departure of Jesus from this earth and his return to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, where already now he rules the cosmos as King and Lord. Following the 40 days after his resurrection when Jesus appeared regularly to his disciples, Jesus was lifted up and out of their sight, leaving behind the promise of the coming Spirit who would empower them to continue to minister in his name and to witness to his Lordship. Jesus' ascension is also a preview of his later return, when he will come back from heaven to establish his kingdom and make all things new.

In Scripture

"God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm" (Ps. 47:5-7).

He blessed them "Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God" (Luke 24:50-53).

I will send him to you "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).

It is not for you to know "So when they had come together, they asked him, `Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?' He replied, `It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, `Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:6-11).

Captivity itself is a captive "But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, `When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.' (When it says, `He ascended,' what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)" (Eph. 4:7-10)

"So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

Points to Ponder

Ascension Benefits: Traditionally the Church has taught that despite the initial disappointment of the disciples that Jesus had left them, this departure was actually for the good of the church (as Jesus himself predicted in John 16:7). Among the benefits of the ascension for believers are the following: 1) Jesus pleads our cause with the Father, serving as our true Mediator in answering our prayers and advocating for the Church in its ongoing mission on earth. 2) The fact that Jesus' own body is now in heaven assures us that one day our own resurrected bodies will likewise be in the presence of God in the New Creation — Jesus' bodily presence at God's right hand is like a sneak preview of what we will enjoy one day. 3) Above all, Jesus is able to send the Holy Spirit to the church — which happened initially with dramatic power 10 days after the Ascension on the day the church now calls "Pentecost" — and that Spirit empowers ministry, gives needed and varied gifts to God's people to carry out the mission of God, and thickens the faith of all believers in order to enable them to endure with patience the trials, temptations, and pain that still attends them as they live in the already and the not yet of God's coming kingdom.

Heaven "Above?": Across the centuries, people have poked fun of the ascension as reflecting a na├»ve cosmology that pictured heaven as quite literally above us (with hell being below us). It seems silly, some allege, to envision Jesus' needing to go "up" in order to return to God the Father. Seeing as today we understand the nature of outer space and know that no particular spiritual dimensions are literally either above or below us, some believe that the Ascension can be chalked up as a mythic story — indeed, some allege that this story was initially a convenient way for the disciples to explain why Jesus was no longer around when, in fact, the obvious reason for his absence was that he was quite nicely dead and buried. But although the nature of Jesus' departure as depicted by Luke may indeed have been staged by God to tie in with the cosmology of the disciples — God often "condescends" to our level of comprehension, after all — that does not vitiate the reality that Jesus did bodily enter into the dimension in which God exists, and that is beyond the physical cosmos we can see and touch. But despite our superior knowledge of our place in outer space, most people still refer to heaven as "up" and hell as "down," to good things as being above us and bad things below, as pointed out by Lakoff and Johnson in their classic book Metaphors We Live By. Happy people are on a "high"/ are "on top of the world" and sad people are "lower than a snail" or "in the pits;" successful people reach the "peak" and "pinnacle" of their careers, unsuccessful people "bottom out" and are on "a downward slope." So perhaps even today, picturing the Lord Jesus Christ as "high and lifted up" in the heavenly realms is just another way of conveying the positive nature of Christian hope and faith in Christ in ways that everyone can understand and relate to.

The Session of Christ: An often-overlooked and under-taught component of Christian theology is the Session of Christ, the idea that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From this position Christ already rules the galaxies as the true cosmic King and Lord. Another overlooked feature of this doctrine is that Christ is physically and bodily present in the heavenly realms — once Christ assumed a real human nature in the womb of Mary, this nature became a permanent part of his Person. This is also why many traditional Lord's Supper liturgies include the introductory line "lift up your hearts," as we envision the Holy Spirit elevating our spirits/hearts to the right hand of God, because that is where we can physically commune with the risen and ascended Christ.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.