‘And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight’, Acts 1. 9.
The bodily ascension of our Lord is a truth that the scriptures confirm in many passages and describe in so many ways. The truth of His ascension resulting in His exaltation and glorification is foundational to the faith. For where else could the Son of God, who came forth from the Father, have gone back to, except the place where He had come from, the Father’s side? John 16. 28. And what other logical conclusion could be found for His perfect life, and His finished work of atonement, but for Him to be received up into glory?, 1 Tim. 3. 16.
The historical and bodily ascension of the Lord is testified to by credible witnesses who saw Him alive after His sufferings, touched Him, heard His words, ate with Him and finally beheld Him as He was taken up from them. Later on they would be willing to face persecution and even martyrdom for the sake of the truth of His resurrection and ascension. It would be inconceivable that they would accept dying for a lie. Two of the gospel writers confirm the fact of His ascension, viz. Mark, in chapter 16, verse 19, and Luke in chapter 24, verse 51. The other two distinctly mention it as a fact, John in chapter 20, verse 17 and Matthew in chapter 28, verse 18. Luke in his second treatise, the book of Acts, provides for us the most detailed account of the Lord’s ascension.
THE ACT OF ASCENSION
The act of the ascension itself is described by the Holy Spirit in four different words.
(1) He was received up, Mark 16. 19; Acts 1. 2, 11, 22; 1 Tim. 3. 16. Mark presents the Saviour as the perfect Servant of Jehovah who, having finished all the work given to Him on earth, is now received up, i.e., welcomed back to the highest place of honour at the right hand of God.
(2) He was carried up, Luke. 24. 51. Here Luke speaks of the perfect Man, victorious over death, being carried up, escorted in triumph (perhaps by angels) into heaven itself. It is of great interest to note that He was carried up while blessing His disciples. To us He now continues to bless His people from His place of exaltation.
(3) He was taken up, Acts 1. 9. What we see here is the Lord taken up by the power and glory of God. Hence the appearance of the cloud, the shekinah glory receiving Him out of the disciples’ sight. What an answer to the request, ‘glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was’, John 17. 5. And as He was raised up from the dead by the power and glory of the Father, here we see Him taken up to heaven by the same power.
(4) He has ascended up, Eph. 4. 8; He went up, Acts 1. 10. He, that in humility first descended to the lower parts of the earth, now ascends up to glory in His own power far above all the heavens. In resurrection He was able to raise Himself up; He now ascends up by that same power.
His ascension resulted in His exaltation and glorification, ‘wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name’, Phil. 2. 9. The Holy Spirit refers to this glorious truth in five different expressions.
(1) In Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14 we read that ‘he passed through (margin) the heavens’. In order for Him to get to the third heaven, the Father’s house, He had to traverse the atmospheric and the stellar heavens. The latter is believed to be the territory of ‘principalities and powers’. We read in Daniel chapter 10 verse 13 of one such power that hindered the angel sent to Daniel, necessitating the intervention of archangel Michael. But the triumphant Lord of glory passed unhindered through enemy territory to occupy His unique place as our great high priest.
(2) ‘He that descended is the same that ascended far above all the (margin) heavens, that he might fill all things’, Eph. 4. 10. In this place of supreme exaltation He, the creator of all things, for whom all things were made, and in whom all things consist, now by reason of redemption, receives the added glory of being made heir of all things. All authority in heaven and earth is given to Him. He is coming again to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Indeed, He is worthy to ‘receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing’, Rev. 5. 12. Yet how humbling it is to learn that His beloved church is thought of as ‘the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ Eph. 1. 23.
(3). He was ‘made higher than the heavens’, Heb. 7. 26. God, demonstrating His full satisfaction with His life on earth as the holy, harmless, undefiled and separate One, and with His finished work of atonement, sets Him at the pinnacle of the universe, ‘higher than the heavens’.
(4) He entered into 'heaven itself’, Heb. 9. 24. Christ, the supreme theme of the book of Hebrews, is viewed as here, to show His supremacy over the earthly Aaronic priesthood. For He ‘is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’.
(5) ‘Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him’, 1 Pet. 3. 22. What power, what glory, and what authority now belong to Him. And for us, what confidence to know that the Lover of our souls is in control of the universe itself and that the ‘ministering spirits’ are at His bidding ‘sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation’, Heb. 1. 14.
WHY THE GLORIFICATION?
Four times in the book of Hebrews the Lord is seen seated at the right hand of God. On each occasion the reason for the seating is mentioned.
In chapter 1, verse 3, the Lord sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having by Himself made a purification of our sins. No one else was worthy or able to perform such a work.
Again, in chapter 8, verses 1 and 2 we see Him as the great high priest, seated on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, so that He may perform His task as the minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, ‘which the Lord pitched, and not man’.
In chapter 10, verse 12, we see the One, whose one and only sacrifice has put an end to all sacrifices, who is now for ever seated at the right hand of God. There is no need for Him to stand daily offering the same sacrifices. God Himself thus witnesses to the eternal efficacy of His precious blood.
And finally in chapter 12, verse 2, we see the patient silent Lamb of God, who endured the cross, set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For Him the cross was not to be despised, but to be endured. The shame He despised. He bore the shame, and now He is bearing the glory, Zech. 6. 13. And why did He willingly accept to do that? It was for the joy that was set before Him. To His name is the glory.
(To be continued)