Ascension Day

Preaching and Worship Resources about Ascension Day

Jesus' ascension is both one of the most important and most neglected events in the life of Christ. Without it, Christ is not Lord and we are not saved. In Christ's ascension we see not only his enthronement and exaltation, but also our own.

In Scripture

The primary narrative of the ascension is given in Acts 1:6-11. After the disciples ask Jesus whether this is the "time when [he] will restore the kingdom to Israel," (Acts 1:6), Jesus tells them that it is not for them to know "times or periods" over which the Father has authority. Then he promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower them to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Then he is "lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight."

The "cloud" is important in that throughout the Bible the cloud is a sign of God's presence (Ex. 13:21, 19:16, 40:34). The impression here is that Jesus did not shoot off into outer space, but was received into "heaven," another hidden dimension of reality, the control tower of the universe.

Angels The angels' appearance marks this as an important event, as it did at Jesus' birth and resurrection. The angels instruct the upward-looking disciples to look instead to their work as witnesses as they await the return of Christ. Ascension is not about heavenly speculation, but about Christ's new place of authority.

A secondary and spare ascension narrative is found in Matthew 28:16-20, where Jesus reiterates his commandment, the "Great Commission," to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Gift of the Spirit John conflates the ascension and the gift of the Spirit. After his resurrection, Jesus says to Mary, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20:17) In the same way he "breathes" the Holy Spirit on the disciples and sends them on their ministry of witnessing (John 20:21-22).

In Acts 2:32-36 Peter asserts that Jesus is now "exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear."

In Philippians 2:8-11, Paul proclaims the ascension by saying that "God exalted Jesus and "gave him the name that is above every name" so that "every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Elsewhere Paul says that Christ was "taken up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16).

In Colossians 3:1-3 Paul appeals to the ascension as the motive and inspiration for our life in the world. He also asserts in verse 4 that when the ascended Lord "is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory."

The writer of Hebrews almost hangs the argument of the book on Christ's ascension. He begins by saying that Jesus, after making "purification for sins . . . sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). He then goes on to describe redemption through the lens of the ascension. Christ is the perfect High Priest who ascends to the heavenly temple, there to offer the blood of his perfect sacrifice at the heavenly mercy seat (Heb. 9:11-14).

John's vision in Revelation offers a vivid picture of the ascended Lord (Rev. 1). In chapters 4 and 5 he envisions the worship of heaven in which the Lamb that was slain opens the scroll of history, to the acclamation of the saints and angels (Rev. 5:6-14).

Points to Ponder

Charles Wesley In his great ascension hymn "Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise," Charles Wesley writes, "Highest heaven its Lord receives/ yet he loves the earth he leaves./ Though returning to his throne/still he calls us all his own. Still for us he intercedes/ his atoning death he pleads/ near himself prepares our place/ he the firstfruits of our race". Here Wesley asserts what the whole Christian tradition has confirmed — that Christ's ascension presages our own. In his exaltation he brings our human nature into the very presence and fellowship of the triune God.

Christopher Wordsworth Christopher Wordsworth's hymn "See the Conqueror Mount in Triumph" puts it even more vividly: "Thou hast raised our human nature on the clouds at God's right hand/ there to sit in heavenly places, there with thee in glory stand/ Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne/ mighty Lord, in thine ascension, we by faith behold our own".

Christ's Intercession An important aspect of the ascension is Christ's intercession for us. He pleads our cause before the Father for us, his adopted brothers and sisters.

Lordship Over All Things Christ's ascension also declares his Lordship over all things. While this Lordship is often hidden in our world, the Spirit of the ascended Lord is at work in both the church and the world to bring all things under Christ's reign. In his final appearance (parousia) the wraps will be removed, and "every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth." (Phil. 2:10).


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.