The Ascension of Jesus has become a forgotten doctrine in most churches. We think of Jesus in terms of his past work at the manger, cross, or empty tomb but neglect his ongoing work from the throne. Jesus has not kicked up his feet to enjoy the retired life until his return. Reclaiming our understanding of the ascension helps us answer what Jesus is doing right now, and why his reign gives us rest.
The redemptive events in Jesus’ life are a step of crescendos: the cross is followed by resurrection that leads to enthronement. His brief stint on earth after the resurrection is important for the disciples’ faith and the Church’s start, but it was a brief layover on his route from empty tomb to exalted throne.
Below are four implications of Christ’s ascension. By seeing ways Jesus leads, rules, loves, and sends us today we’ll understand why he said it was to our advantage he was going away (Jn. 16:7).
1) The Exalted King Leads His People
At Jesus’ ascension, he’s exalted to the right hand of the Father, crowned with glory, and declared to be the King with all power and authority (Rom. 1:4; Mt. 28:18). This isn’t a general crowning of Jesus as a king without a real kingdom. It’s tied to the promise the Messiah would be the Son of David reigning over the kingdom of God. The ascension exalts Jesus as King, establishes his kingdom, and enlists his followers.
Romans 1:3-4 says Jesus is the descendant of David, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Through the resurrection and ascension, Jesus sits on the Davidic throne where he exercises a new level of power and authority as Lord (cf. Acts 2:29-36; 13:16-39). Pentecost gives proof the new creation age dawned through the promised Messianic-King taking his rightful place on the throne. He celebrates his coronation by pouring out gifts on his people.
Jesus rescues us out of the kingdom of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). As slaves redeemed and freed from life-long bondage, we now gratefully throw ourselves before the King. We see the way he loved us through his sacrifice on the cross and we know he will now love us through his leadership on the throne. We are not freed or left on our own to figure out how to now live and find purpose, peace, and joy. Jesus guides, teaches, and leads us as we live with and under his authority as King: submitting to his rule, learning his ways of wisdom and righteousness, enjoying his protection and favor, depending on his grace and provision, and sharing in the joy and glory of his victories.
2) The Reigning King Rules for His People
Thrones aren’t comfortable chairs for royalty. They are seats of power from which kings exercise sovereignty over kingdoms. The frequent references to Jesus’ ascension to the throne remind us he reigns right now with all power, authority, and sovereignty. He is over all things and ruling all things and ordering all things not just for the King’s glory, but also for the good of each person in the kingdom.
Christ’s ascension and ongoing reign helps us trust him through all the ups-and-downs of life. If Jesus has control over my life, I don’t have to grasp for control. If Jesus is running my life as King, I don’t have to take over. He will do a better job ruling over me and for me than I can do. We can find rest on earth in his reign and rule from heaven.
The one who “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3) “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3). All authorities and people are under his feet, and all circumstances and situations are in his hands (Eph. 1:20-22).
My life is in his hands. My work, unemployment, finances, health, family, singleness, marriage, parenting, or infertility are in his hands. The worries keeping me up at night or preoccupying my thoughts during the day are in his hands. And because King Jesus is good, wise, loving, holy, and compassionate, being in his powerful and gentle hands is the safest place to be. If Jesus is over everything in my life, there is hope even when things are hard. Jesus reigns so we can rest in him.
3) The Compassionate Priest-King Intercedes for His People
Jesus is our Advocate in heaven interceding for his people on earth. In the New Testament, a variety of expressions convey this: advocate (I Jn. 2:1), mediator (I Tim. 2:5), intercessor (Rom. 8:34), and Hebrews’ theology of our high priest (Heb. 2:17). On our own we’re hopelessly lost and dreadfully distanced from the Holy God, but because of the once-for-all sacrifice and Christ’s ongoing ministry as our Advocate, we can boldly draw near to God through Jesus. Since Jesus is never off the clock, there’s not a single second where I don’t have the help and hope of his intercession.
Hebrews is the all-you-can-eat buffet filling our plates with good news about Christ’s priesthood. Because Jesus ascended to heaven, he has thrown open the doors of heaven and told us to draw near to the throne of grace whenever we’re in need (Heb. 4:14-16). Jesus draws near to us in compassion so we will draw near to him in confidence.
Because Jesus is both the perfect sacrifice and eternal high-priest, he invites messy sinners like us to come to God not with heads cowered down but in full confidence and assurance (Heb. 10:19-22). Through Jesus, there’s not only an open way to God, but the Father eagerly and emphatically invites His children to come to Him.
Jesus our Ascended-Advocate not only gives hope to sinners, but he offers help in our struggles. Jesus was tempted and suffered like us—only he never sinned—and so he’s more empathetic, compassionate, and understanding than we can imagine (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-16). In the midst of our pain, trials, and suffering, we are not without help. In dark seasons, you might feel as if God has abandoned you because the clouds block the sun. Because our feelings can easily lead us astray, we must drive the stake of our hope deep into the rock-solid ground of God’s promises.
Jesus always lives to intercede for us and will never push anyone away who comes to him (Heb. 7:25; Jn. 6:37). Our Priest is also the King with authority over heaven and earth. He is not only concerned with our needs but he’s the powerful Sovereign who can do something about them. He offers mercy and might because his throne is a place of both glory and grace (Heb. 4:14-16).
4) The Powerful King Commissions His People
A lot of attention—and rightly so—has been given to the mission to go make disciples of all peoples (Mt. 28:18-20). But how is this “mission impossible” now possible? In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says that as the resurrected and soon-to-be ascended King, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him. Although the Jews were looking for a King to set up shop over Israel, the expanse of Jesus’ kingdom authority covers the whole globe.
King Jesus claims his sovereignty and rule over all creation and now he sends us into the lands that are rightly his. Matthew 28:20 and Acts 1:8 connect the resurrection-ascension with Pentecost. Like all of Christ’s work, these two events are linked in an unbreakable chain where every piece matters (birth-life-death-resurrection-ascension-pentecost-return).
Pentecost enlists the Church into the King’s army and equips them by the Spirit for what lies ahead. In Acts, it is the Spirit who gives boldness to the kingdom citizens to announce the gospel news. The Spirit doesn’t replace or take over for Jesus, but he is the presence and the power of Jesus with us.
The ascension assures us Jesus is the King with power over the world and he’s present with us in the world. Pentecost launches and deploys the citizens from the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of the world. Christ’s ascension propels us on mission and Pentecost empowers us for mission.
The ascension isn’t an afterthought. It’s an essential part of the glorious life and work of Jesus and it’s a catalyst for our empowerment and endurance. Today, our reigning King leads us, rules over us, cares for us, and sends us out in the power of his Spirit.
“At Jesus’ resurrection God ‘made him both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). We know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was the Christ during his earthly ministry, and therefore this verse does not teach that Jesus ‘became’ Lord and Christ only when raised from the dead. The point of the verse is that Jesus became the exalted Lord and Christ only at his exaltation. He did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.” Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 292-93.