Jim Voisey, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
This fragment of a verse from Philippians 2 expresses a truth of profound significance for the Christian and for the world. We do well to remind ourselves that God has His King, and in Psalm 2 is found God's answer to the world's rejection of His Son. This is God's decree: "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession". And unto the "uttermost part of the earth" did the Risen Christ send forth His witnesses, to bear the good tidings of salvation and to claim the allegiance of all men to Himself, Acts 1.8.
After His death, burial, resurrection, and then a period of forty days, 1. 3, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, and it is the significance and implications of this with which we are concerned. It has a significance for this Christ-rejecting and Christ-neglecting world where we can see foolish men like those in the second Psalm seeking to "break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords". In their puny arrogance they are ready to lift themselves against the God of heaven, and to them God speaks words of warning and entreaty: "Kiss the son (i.e. pay homage to the Son), lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled", Ps. 2. 12 R.v.
But how much more significance the ascension has for the Christian. Surely there is nothing so fitted to stir us to worship and praise, nor to encourage our fainting hearts in His service. In Luke 24. 51, 52, it led the disciples to worship Him with great joy. In Mark 16.19, 20, we read that after His ascension, in obedience to His command in verse 15, "they went forth, and preached every where".
The Manner of His Going into Heaven. The historical basis for the doctrine of the ascension is found in Mark 16. 15-20; Luke 24. 44-53 and Acts 1. 1-11. There are many other Scriptures in the New Testament which involve this doctrine by implication and inference.
Bringing together the facts of these three historical passages, we find that between His resurrection and ascension was an interval of forty days, during which time the Lord Jesus "showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs", Acts 1. 3; cf. Acts 13. 31. This information about the period of forty days is important as indicating that the resurrection and the ascension are separate and distinct both in historical fact and theological significance, and they must not be confused.
When the time came for the Lord to return to the Father, Luke records how He led them out as far as to Bethany, and as He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven, Luke 24. 51.
Acts tells us how the disciples "looked stedfastly toward heaven" as He went up, and that a cloud received Him out of their sight. The reference to the cloud is important, indicating that the ascension of the Lord Jesus is to be understood in a literal sense. We are to believe that He ascended bodily into the sky, but at the same time it was an acted parable to the disciples, an indication to them that the "little while" of John 13. 33 had come to an end. He was gone away from them as He said He would. He had returned to the Father who sent Him. He had gone away that He might send forth the promise of the Spirit, the other "Comforter". All this would be impressed on the disciples, and no longer would they know Him after the flesh, but now they would prove the spiritual power of His indwelling Spirit. Let infidelity, and knowledge "falsely so called", demand to know how can these things be. Yet the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ is a glorious fact of history and theology.
However, the New Testament does but state the facts, and places little emphasis on the details of the physical ascent of the Lord Jesus Christ. It places great emphasis on the fact that He did ascend, and that He is now in heaven.
At the Right Hand of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is now seated on the right hand of God. The Scriptures use the language of men. We are not to think that God has hands like a man. To sit on the right hand of some great person was to be in the place of honour, power and dignity. So it is to be understood wherever this expression is used of our Lord. He now has the supreme place of honour, power and dignity sharing His Father's throne.
Men gave the Christ of God no place in the world He made, yet the highest place that heaven affords is His; men gave Him a crown of thorns, but on His head are many crowns; men gave Him a cross, but His throne is for ever and ever; they gave Him a reed in mockery of His true royalty, but the sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of His kingdom.
The head that once was crowned with thorns,
Is crowned with glory now. A royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor's brow.
Do we grasp the significance of this for ourselves? Can we see Him as Isaiah saw Him, "the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up"? He saw "the King, the Lord of hosts"; John tells us that Isaiah saw His glory, John 12. 41. He is enthroned in heaven, but is He enthroned in our hearts? His is the highest place in God's creation; what is His place in our estimation? Do we treat lightly our relationship with Him? Do we hesitate to confess Him before men? In Colossians 3. 1 to 4. 1 we have brought out the significance of the ascension in the moral and physical life of the Christian. "If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God", Col. 3. 1-2 r.v. "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth". Are we seeking those things? Have we set our mind, mortified our members on earth, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility? Are we serving the Lord Christ? (Notice this majestic title in verse 24).
"It is finished". The ascension of the Lord Jesus is not only everywhere assumed in the New Testament, it is the very foundation of it, and in a special sense is this so of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The third verse of chapter 1 is the very key to the writer's argument, "when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high". The ascension is the evidence and culmination of Christ's finished work. If Jesus has not ascended, then this Epistle is empty of meaning and of spiritual and practical value, for then we would have no great High Priest that can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities", 4. I4f, no "forerunner" entered within the veil, 6. 20, no "minister of the sanctuary", 8. 1-2, no "new and living way", 10. 19, 20, no one to look to as "the author and finisher of faith", 12. 2. How absolutely vital and basic is belief in our Lord's ascension and exaltation! Each of these things has a practical bearing, for we have a great High Priest, and we can be exhorted to "come boldly unto the throne of grace". We have a Forerunner, and therefore we are able to "lay hold upon the hope set before us", like an anchor of the soul. All the teaching of the Epistle about "holding fast", "running with patience", and "bearing his reproach", is made of value to us only because "we have such an high priest'.. . .", Heb. 8. 1.
It may be that some will read these pages who do not know the joy and peace of believing that Christ died for their sins, or if they know these things yet they are not resting upon the finished work. "It is finished" He said from the cross, John 19. 30, and never more will He suffer. To all who trust Him He is the Author of eternal salvation, Heb. 5. 9; cf. 7. 25. His invitation was to all who are labouring and "heavy laden" to come to Him, and they who came to Him in true repentance and faith were never cast out. Think not that you are unworthy of His mercy, or fear that you may fall, or use any other argument which the human mind so readily devises to prevent your coming to the Saviour. We commend our Saviour to you.