Ascension (of Christ)

See also Ascension of Christ

The Dome of the Ascension on the Mt. of Olives.

ASCENSION (OF CHRIST) (עָלָה, H6590, ἀναβάινω, go up; also ἀναλαμβάνεσθαι, to be taken up, ἐπαίρεσθαι, to be lifted up). The exaltation of Christ to the presence of the Father in glory after His Resurrection from the dead.

Biblical information.

Anticipations in the OT and later Judaism.


During our Lord’s earthly ministry.


Description of the event in the gospels and Acts.


Further references in Acts.

The speeches in Acts reveal that the essence of the apostles’ preaching was that the same Jesus who went about doing good and mighty deeds, and who died in accordance with God’s plan, was raised from the dead (of which the apostles, and all in Jerusalem, are witnesses [2:32]), and ascended to heaven, where He is now seated at God’s right hand. From there He has bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit, and will one day come to establish His kingdom. Foundational to their experience of the living Christ was the fact of the Ascension (2:33-36; 3:20, 21; 7:55-60). It was the ascended Christ in glory who “arrested” Saul (9:3-5; 22:6-8; 26:13-15).

Paul’s epistles.


The letter to the Hebrews.


Other NT references.


Philosophical problems.

The laws of nature.

It is argued that the picture of a body ascending contravenes the law of gravity. However, the real problem is that we know so little of the Lord’s resurrection body. It was different from the body laid in the tomb, yet essentially the same. Thus the resurrected Lord could be seen, touched, handled, recognized; He could eat and drink; yet He could also appear and disappear, enter a room when the doors were shut. There is no greater problem in the Ascension than in the Resurrection.

The localization of the spiritual world.

The account seems to suggest that heaven is located a short distance above the earth; modern science makes such a picture untenable. But surely this criticism takes the narrative in too literal a sense. The language is symbolic. We should pieture Christ as transferring, not from one position to another, but from one condition to another. As C. S. Lewis comments, “Perhaps mere instantaneous vanishing would make us feel more comfortable...But if the spectators say they saw first a short vertical movement and then a vague luminosity (that is what ‘cloud’ presumably means here as it certainly does in the account of the Transfiguration) and then nothing—have we any reason to object?” (Miracles p. 186). Perhaps the contemporary scientific mind would prefer to think, in Einsteinian terms, of matter transformed into enormous energy, but would this not also be but a symbol of a reality beyond adequate expression in terms from the physical universe?

The historical credibility.

Luke’s writing throughout is that of the careful historian, who verified his facts from original written sources, and from direct interrogation of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1, 2). For an event which stands as the critical junction point between his two vols., and is essential for the theme of Acts, viz., the continuity of Jesus’ deeds and teachings in His ascended state (Acts 1:1, 2), it would be incredible that he should not verify the details of their experience firsthand from the surviving apostles. Our knowledge of the bodily appearances of the risen Lord to His disciples through the weeks subsequent to the Resurrection is based on solid historical evidence; it is equally dependable that these bodily appearances came to an end, when our Lord at His Ascension reassumed His position of supreme authority “at God’s right hand.”

The significance of the Ascension.

For Christ.

The exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God meant for Him the clear demonstration of His victory (Eph 4:8), and the resumption of His immediate fellowship in glory with the Father (John 17:5) in the place of honor (Ps 110:1), power (Acts 2:33), and eternal joy (Ps 16:11). In some sense at least, because of His willingness to suffer and die, His Ascension leads into greater glory than in His pre-incarnate state. God has now “hyperexalted” (ὑπερύψωσεν) Him (Phil 2:9).

For Christian believers.


Bibliography

W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord (1891); W. J. Sparrow-Simpson, Our Lord’s Resurrection (1905), ch. 9; H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ (1910); W. H. G. Thomas, “Ascension,” ISBE I (1929); K. Lake, “The Ascension,” The Beginnings of Christianity V (1933); C. S. Lewis, Miracles (1947), ch. 16; J. G. Davies, He Ascended Into Heaven (1958); M. L. Loane, Our Risen Lord (1965), ch. 9.