As we turn together to look to Christ and prepare for a time at His Table, we want to consider a subject that is not often considered. As I was thinking about what I might bring to you, I was going through my bible early in the week, and I pulled out a little piece of paper; it was actually a church bulletin. I happened to have been visiting a certain church in the last few weeks, and during the service, just sitting there, I began to think about this particular event in the life of Christ.
And sort of listening to the sermon with one ear and thinking this through with my mind at the same time, something I forbid you to do. I began to think about this particular subject, and I began to write down, on the back of this bulletin, everything I could think about the significance of this particular event in the life of Christ. And by the time I was done, I had this list of things that was really overwhelming to me.
And as I was going through my Bible the other day, I pulled that back out, and I began to think about this particular event and how overlooked an event it is. It is, in fact, one of the most neglected events in the life of our Lord, and yet it is loaded with significance. It is really one of the monumental features of redemptive history. One of the greatest moments, if not equal to the greatest moment, in the saga of the incarnation. Often neglected, rarely discussed, infrequently preached on, it actually should rank with the birth of Christ, the death of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ. Probably should have a holiday.
It certainly is impossible to think about the crucifixion without thinking about the resurrection. And it is unthinkable to imagine the resurrection without this event? It deserves to be ranked with the greatest events in the life of Christ. But, in fact, it usually is overlooked. It is the ascension of Christ. And if you were to mark out the great events of His life, they would be His birth, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension.
In some ways, His leaving was more important than His coming. His coming was filled with promise and anticipation; His leaving was filled with completion and accomplishment. In fact, one of the greatest things the Lord ever did for His disciples was leave. One of the greatest things He ever did for us was leave. It was, in many ways, His most magnanimous act; His greatest gift was leaving.
Now, when He told the disciples that He was going to do that, they didn’t like it. They couldn’t understand how it could be better for Him to be gone than for Him to be here. But in fact, that was the case. And when He told them He was leaving, they went through a process of response, starting out with, “This isn’t going to happen; we’re not going to allow it,” to grief, to sorrow, to fear, to confusion. “Where are You going to go, and how are we ever going to get there? And why do You have to leave?”
They did everything, certainly, in their verbal power to stop Him from leaving. And Jesus had to say to them some really significant words in John 16:7. He said, “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” What a statement, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” What could be better than living every day in the presence of the incarnate God? What could be better than waking up in the morning in the company of Jesus? What could be better than having Him make breakfast? And you know how He makes breakfast: “Breakfast.” The same way He makes lunch.
What could be better than having a resident physician who could heal all your diseases; and the wisdom of the eternal ages, who could answer all your questions and solve every puzzle and every riddle? The one who knew the future as well as He knew the past and the present and could tell you what to expect at every turn in life. What could be better than having a divine companionship like that all the time? What could be better? It’d be better if He left. Isn’t that amazing? It’s true. Jesus said it, “It is to your advantage that I go away.”
Think about it this way; would you rather live during the time of Jesus’ humiliation, or would you rather live during the time of His exaltation? To put it another way, would you rather live with Him during the time of His limitation or live with Him during the time when there was no limitation. Would you rather live with Jesus when He could be somewhere, or would you rather live with Jesus when He could be everywhere? Would you rather live with Jesus when He was with you, or would you rather live with Jesus when He was in you?
You see, the ascension is the monumental conclusion to everything else. Coming to the Lord’s Table and thinking about the cross should lead us to think about the significance of what He did, which leads us to the ascension.
The early church sang. They sang like we sing. In fact, they sang about the same things we sing about. And some of their hymns, wonderfully, are recorded in scripture. One such hymn is in 1 Timothy 3. Turn to 1 Timothy 3. Look at the very end of the chapter and you will see in the form of your Bible that the last part of verse 16 that ends chapter 3 is organized differently than the paragraphing that is normal in the text of Scripture, and it indicates to us poetry. It indicates, in this case, most likely a hymn.
Verse 16 of 1 Timothy 3 says, “And by common confession” – that phrase “common confession” means this was a creed, this was a hymn commonly articulated by the church, and it was about the mystery of godliness. What is the mystery of godliness? The mystery of godliness is that God would dwell in a body. It is the incarnation; it is Jesus Christ.
So, here is a common confession, a common creed, a common hymn about the incarnation. Here’s how it goes, “He who was revealed in the flesh/Was vindicated in the Spirit/Beheld by angels/Proclaimed among the nations/Believed on in the world” - and here’s the ascension – “Taken up in glory.”
Those are the singularly critical events of the life of Christ. “Revealed in the flesh,” that’s His incarnation, His virgin birth. “Vindicated in the Spirit” could refer to His baptism in which the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove - could also refer to His resurrection in which, by the power of the Father, expressed through the Spirit, He was raised from the dead. “Beheld by angels” could refer to the angels attending to every need in His life at the time of His temptation and certainly beyond that. The “proclamation among the nations” of the gospel of a resurrected Savior made the message believable. And so, He was “believed on in the world” and then ultimately “taken up in glory.”
You start with the virgin birth. You go through the events of the baptism of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, angelic care, a proclamation of the gospel, the faith of those who heard it, and then comes the ascension. But this brief six stanzas, this hymn that summarizes the life of Christ culminates in the ascension, the great event of the ascension. It is a marvelous event. It is an utterly unique event.
In John’s gospel, from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Himself come words of great importance regarding it. In John chapter 3 and verse 13, Jesus says, “And no one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.” The ascension is absolutely unique. Yes, there are people who have been taken into heaven. We can remember people like that. For example, we remember that the prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. And one in the patriarchal age walked with God and He was not for God took him. We understand that there are times when God has, in redemptive history, taken someone into His presence. We know that in the future there will be a rapture and a gathering together of the saints. We know that when believers die throughout the ages, their spirits go into the presence of the Lord. And there is certainly a spiritual ascension.
But there is only one, in all of redemptive history, all of human history, all of the history of the world who by His own power just left earth and went directly to heaven. Under His own power. And the only one, according to the words of Jesus, is the one who came down by His own power. He came down, and He went back. So, the ascension is something absolutely and utterly unique to Jesus Christ.
To understand the event itself, you only need to listen to a few brief statements made in the New Testament. For example, in Mark 16 and verse 19 it says, after Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” in verse 19, “So, then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
That’s all Mark says about the ascension. That’s it. Jesus was through with the Great Commission; He was received up into heaven. Notice it doesn’t say there that He was taken up; He was received. He could go up by His own power. Heaven just opened and received Him, and He took His seat at the right hand of God.
At the end of Luke’s gospel, Luke makes reference to this event. Chapter 24 and verse 50, “He led them out as far as Bethany” – that little village about two miles east of the Mount Moriah where the temple mount is in Jerusalem – “He went out as far as Bethany and lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came about that while He was blessing them, He parted from them.” He just took off; He just ascended right up into heaven.
The most detailed account – and it’s not a lot of detail, but it’s a little more than those two – is found in the first chapter of Acts, in verse 6. Jesus is talking to the disciples about when He’s going to restore the kingdom to them.
And in verse 9 it says, “And after He had said these things” – this, again would be the same time as the reference in Mark and Luke, at the same moment; and here is Luke writing in the book of Acts and giving a little fuller detail – “After He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” He just took off again, vanished into a cloud.
“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing” – obviously, your eyes would be fixed on that kind of an action; they were staring is what that verb means – “and behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.” This is two angels who appear to calm them down and to explain what’s going on. “And they said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?’”
And you might immediately reply, “Well, where would you be looking if somebody was going up? It seems to be the place to look.”
But their intent was, “You don’t need to look longingly. Why are you looking longingly as if you’re losing something or someone? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Now, there you have, in those brief verses, all that’s really said about the actual event of the ascension. And maybe that’s why not too many people preach on the ascension, because it’s just that simple. Jesus stopped talking and went to heaven. And there certainly is some remarkable – someone remarkable power expressed, some supernatural drama in that event.
But beyond the actual event of Jesus going to heaven, the question is what did it mean? Why was it advantageous? Why was it better for Him to leave? Let me give you the answer to that. I’m going to give you a series of points, and frankly, each one of them could be a sermon, and this someday will probably be a series, but I’m going to just give you the main points to think about as we contemplate our focus on the person of Christ.
Number 1, the ascension as significant because it marked the completion of our Lord’s earthly work. It marked the completion of our Lord’s earthly work. In John 4:34, Jesus Himself said, “My food” – or my meat – “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work and to finish His work.” Not just to come to the end, but to finish, to accomplish, to achieve, to complete. He said, “I’m here in this world to complete the work.” And we know what the work was; the work was the work of redemption, was it not? The work was the work of substitutionary atonement on behalf of sinners. The work was to crush the serpent, to shatter the kingdom of darkness, to break the bonds of sin, to free believing souls into the glories of eternal heaven, the work of redemption. “I came to finish the work.”
In John 17:4, in praying to the father, Jesus said, “I glorified Thee on earth, having accomplished” – or finished – “the work which You gave Me to do.” And in John 19:30, on the cross He said, “It is finished.” He didn’t leave an unfinished work. He didn’t leave an unfinished symphony like so many musicians. He didn’t leave an unfinished book like so many writers. He didn’t leave an unfinished painting like so many artists. He finished. He finished. And He went back because He was finished. The work was done. That is the marvelous reality of the ascension, that the work of redemption was completed, finished. He had certainly finished the sacrificial part of it when He said “It is finished” on the cross. Then came the resurrection; then came 40 days of speaking of the things concerning the kingdom and solidifying the confidence in the faith of the disciples in the reality of His resurrection.
And then, when it was all finished, He went back, and we can, with great confidence and great joy and great trust, say the work of redemption is finished. That’s why we talk about being believers who believe in a finished work. Our salvation is not partial; it is done; it is accomplished.
Secondly, the significance of the ascension is that it signaled the end of our Lord’s limitations. It signaled the end of our Lord’s limitations. In that same seventeenth chapter of John and verse 5, Jesus, praying to the Father, said, “Now glorify Thou Me.” Verse 4 He said, “I finished the work.” Then in verse 5 He said, “Now glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with a glory I had with You before the world began.”
In other words, He is saying, “Take Me back to glory,” which would signal the work was done, and the Father was pleased, and the limitations imposed on Jesus were taken off. And He did have limitations. There’s no question about that. Those limitations are defined for us as well as anywhere in Philippians chapter 2. You might want to look to it. Philippians 2:6, 7, and 8. In verse 6 it says that Christ existed in the form of God. What form is God? God is a Trinity. God is Spirit. God is eternal. And all the attributes that are true of God were true of Him. He existed in the essence of God. He was God. He was God – eternal God in the Trinity and yet distinct.
So, “He existed as God in eternity past, but He did not regard that equality with God a thing to be grasped” – in other words, He didn’t hold onto it tightly, unwilling to let it go. “But” – verse 7 – “He emptied Himself” – that’s the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ the theologians talk about. He was willing to let go of that equality and to put limitations on Himself, self-imposed restrictions in – listen carefully – in the exercise of His attributes. He didn’t cease to become God; He didn’t give up any of His deity; He just gave up the independent exercise of His deity.
He gave up, some say, His prerogatives and submitted Himself to the will of the Father and the work of the Spirit in complete humility, submission, and obedience. And that’s exactly what the next part of verse 7 says, “He took the form of a slave.” Those limitations were imposed upon Him. And being made in the likeness of men. He was found in appearance as a man. That was limiting. He came into this world, limited Himself to this sphere. He set aside His prerogatives as God and limited Himself to the Father’s will and the Spirit’s power. He limited Himself go a physical, human body and bore all of the pain, suffering, hunger, thirst – all that goes with being a physical human. And He went below that. Verse 8, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” – which is truly human. And it would have been enough to die, but He died the worst imaginable death, the death of the cross. That is the – that is the apostle Paul’s description of the limits that Jesus put upon Himself.
You could add Galatians 3, “He became a curse.” He became a servant; He became a man; He became a curse. “There was no beauty in Him” – Isaiah says – “that men should desire Him.” He became a Lamb – a sacrificial Lamb. He became a criminal in the eyes of the people and died an ignominious, embarrassing, shameful death on the cross. But when He ascended, all the limitations were gone.
Now, even after His resurrection, He was still under limitations. Between His resurrection and His ascension, that period of time, He was still under limitations. He was still confined to this world. He had not yet entered again into the glory which He had fully with the Father before the world began. But after His ascension, He went back to the full glory that He had known before He came.
Let Me talk about that for a moment. As I think about that, it’s remarkable to note that Jesus went back to heaven different than when He came. He has never been the same since His incarnation. He came into the world as distinctively spirit, because God is a spirit. He came as Logos. He came as the Word of God. He came as a seed in a woman that grew into an embryo and a fetus and was born a baby, and He became a man. And so, when He went back to heaven, He didn’t go back as He came. He came as distinctive spirit; He went back as distinctive spirit and distinctive man. He went back as Theanthrōpos, the God-man. He came as pure deity; He went back as pure deity and pure humanity. No longer the Logos distinctively, not man distinctively, but the Theanthrōpos, the perfect God-man.
He was restored to limitless intimacy with God as the perfect God-man which He remains forever and ever and ever. And when you see Him – and you will see Him – you will see what John saw in Revelation chapter 5, when he saw coming out of the throne a Lamb as though it had been – what? – slain. You will see what Thomas saw, the nail prints in His hand and the nail prints in His feet and the scar in His side because He is the eternal Theanthrōpos restored to the fullness of trinitarian essence in its full measure. He never ceased to be part of the Trinity but restored back to the full intimacy of all that that means and yet restored back in a way that He had never been before as the Theanthrōpos, the God-man.
And so, Jesus Christ finished the work and went back to the intimacy of communion with the Father. Thirdly, the ascension marked the exaltation of our Lord. Not just restoration to intimacy, not just restoration to fellowship, but while you’re in Philippians chapter 2, look at verse 9. After His death it says, “God also highly exalted Him” – that is referring to the ascension; you can’t get any more highly exalted than to be taken to heaven – “And He bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Some have suggested that’s the name Jesus; it isn’t. The name of Jesus is the name of His incarnation; that’s not a name above every name. The name Jesus was the name of lots of folks, and it still is lots of folks. There are people in the Hispanic world today called Jesús or Jesus. It’s not the name above every name. The name above every name is Lord. That means Sovereign, Ruler. “That at the name which was given to Jesus ever knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So, what you have in the ascension is Christ going back, being exalted, being given the name Lord. Everything in the universe bows to Him; every tongue confesses He is Lord, and that brings glory to the Father.
And so, the ascension is a monumental moment in the life of Christ, at least equal to the birth, the death, and the resurrection of Christ because He ascends to the exalted Lordship which the Father grants to the one who has perfectly accomplished the work of redemption. And so, His return is not just a return to intimacy with God; it’s a return to sovereign exaltation as King and Lord and Ruler.
I want you to hear this from the mouth of Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 and verse 34. Of course, Peter here is referring to one of David’s psalms, but wanting not to have that psalm misapplied. Peter says in Acts 2:34, “It was not David who ascended into heaven.” “It was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand.”‘” It wasn’t going to be David who would ascend; it was going to be the Lord. And so, the Lord God would say to the Lord Christ, “Come up here and sit at My right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that has made Him both Lord and Christ.” Who? “This Jesus whom you crucified.” He is exalted by the Father. Oh what a marvelous honor to be exalted by the God of the universe. And that is what happened to Christ.
And, of course, we have an eyewitness who saw that very exaltation in Acts chapter 7, none other than Stephen, who being crushed beneath the bloody stones as they stoned him say sin verse 55 and 56, “But being full of the Holy Spirit, He gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said – that is Stephen said – “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” There’s an eyewitness account that Jesus finished His work, accomplished redemption, went back to intimacy with God and was given the exalted position at the right hand of the throne. The right hand always indicates power, sovereignty, might.
In Ephesians chapter 1, the same scenario is demonstrated by the apostle Paul who says in verse 20 that God brought about the resurrection. He raised Christ from the dead. Then He says, “He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenlies. And verse 22, “Put all things in subjection under His feet.” It is the exaltation of Jesus Christ. That is why, in Revelation 5, when you come to verse 11, and John is looking at heaven and he hears the – all of the hosts of heaven, 10,000 times 10,000 and thousands and thousands of angels, and the 4 living creatures – and what are they all saying? They’re all proclaiming glory and praise to the Lamb. And what do they say? This is very important; each of these things has significance. They all say, “To the Lamb should be given power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And down in verse 13, “Blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
The ascension is absolutely crucial because it is the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the sovereign kingship, which the Father commits to Him for having perfectly accomplished the plan of redemption.
Number four, the ascension is a crucial event because it signaled our Lord’s sending the Holy Spirit. It signaled our Lord’s sending the Holy Spirit. Again, in John, as Jesus was meeting with His disciples in the upper room on the night of His betrayal, He was preparing them for His leaving. He says to them in John 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
“If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
And when they hear that, they immediately panic. “And Thomas says, ‘We don’t know where you’re going. And how are we going to know the way?’
And Jesus responds in verse 18 to that very anxiety, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” I’m not going away to leave you. In the end I’ll come.
What’s he talking about? Verse 16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it doesn’t behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” I’m leaving, but I’ll be back. And I’ll be back in the form of the Holy Spirit who is called in Romans 8:9 the very Spirit of Christ. He had to go to send the Spirit. Listen to what He said in John 16. Remember that verse I read you earlier, verse 7? “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Why? “If I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Better that Jesus leaves, because when Jesus leaves, the Spirit comes. “And when the Spirit comes” – John 15:26 – “He will bear witness of Me.” He’ll bring Me right back to you. He’ll speak of Me. He’ll show you My person. He’ll show you My power. He’ll point to Me.
I often think to myself, as a footnote, the churches that emphasize constantly the Holy Spirit are seriously off track, because the Holy Spirit constantly points to – whom? – Christ. The joy that we can know from the ascension, first of all, is that Jesus goes back to send the Spirit. As He said to His disciples in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” He has been with you; He will be in you. “And when He comes” – chapter 16 of John’s gospel, verse 13 – “He’ll guide you into all the truth. He’ll glorify Me. He’ll take of Mine and disclose it to you.” I’m not really going to be gone; in the form of the Spirit, I’ll be back.
And in that same portion of scripture, Jesus promised them joy in the Spirit and peace. He really promised much of what is listed in Galatians 5 as the fruit of the Spirit: comfort, hope. In Peter’s sermon, again in Acts 2, he says this, verses 32 and 33, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.” Then verse 33, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”
Peter’s explaining Pentecost when the Spirit came. What you’re seeing is the coming of the Spirit which was promised when Christ went back to the Father. He went back, but He didn’t leave us as orphans. He sent us His own Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, to be with us, to be in us, to show us Christ, to lead us into all truth, to empower us for all ministry. If Jesus doesn’t go back, the Spirit doesn’t come.
You look at Peter, at the end of the life of Christ, and he’s a coward. He’s a coward before the crucifixion. Right? Denying Christ three times. He’s a coward after the resurrection, disobeying the Lord and going back to his old profession of fishing. And the Lord has to confront Him in John 21. And Jesus goes back to heaven, and you wonder what in the world is He going to be. He was a coward before the death of Christ; He was a coward even after the resurrection. Jesus was still around during that period of time, but when Christ goes back to heaven, what’ll happen to Peter? Answer: he was so powerful that God used him to preach the sermon that founded the church. What was the – what was the source of power? How could that man who had failed so often be so powerful? Answer: the Spirit came on him, too.
Number five, the ascension is significant because it marked the start of our Lord’s preparation of our eternal home. It marked the start of the Lord’s preparation of our eternal home. Back to John 14, which I read a moment ago in the context of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare your place.”
That’s better. I mean He could have stayed a lot longer down here and tried to fix up the world, but that’s hard. You can’t fix it; you just have to destroy it, which you’ll do someday. Far better that He would go and prepare our place in heaven. And that’s what He did. “And if I go and prepare a place,” He said, “I’ll come again and receive you to Myself.” Far better that Jesus should go back and get our eternal home ready.
Life is a vapor that appears for a little time, vanishes, and it’s gone. Life is just a short breath; that’s all. And eternity is eternity. That’s a long, long spell. And our eternal home is a far greater consequence than anything in this life. And Jesus said, “I have to go back to get your place ready, your room in the Father’s house in the New Jerusalem.” If you want a glimpse of it, read Revelation 21 and 22. No wonder it’s better for us if He leaves. He sends us the Holy Spirit who’s with us all the time. And the Holy Spirit brings Him back to us, and we’re never without I’m. He’s in us all the time and He’s also preparing our eternal home and getting it ready for when we come.
Number six, the ascension is significant because it marked the passing of the work of evangelism to our Lord’s followers. Our Lord passed on the work of evangelism. He gave the Great Commission, “Go unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creation” – all creation, every creature. “So” - Mark 16 says, in verse 19 – “when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them” – that Great Commission – “He was received up into heaven, sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere.” He passed the baton. He gave the Great Commission right before His ascension, and He passed the work of evangelism to His followers. And, of course, He gave them the Holy Spirit so they would have power, “And you will be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.”
And as Acts 1:1 and 2 says, the work which Jesus began to do – He just began to do – “until the day when He was taken up” – His ascension – “after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.” He began the work; He gave orders to them to carry on the work, and then He ascended. It had to happen. It signals the passing of the baton. It signals the Great Commission. It signals the Lord turning over the work of evangelism to us. He was the great Preacher. He was the one who had all the crowds. He was the one who drew the multitudes. He was the one who preached the kingdom and the gospel and repentance and forgiveness; He was the one. And now it’s us. And He went on and left the work with us. It’s better.
That’s why, you know, Jesus said, “Greater things shall you do than these, because I” – what? – “go to My Father.” What in the world did He mean? That we would do better things in terms of kind? Greater things in terms of power? No. In terms of breadth. Jesus was one person in one place. The gospel has gone to the far corners of the earth because so many have carried it there. He passed the baton. It signaled the passing of the work of evangelism to the followers of Christ.
Number seven, the ascension was crucial because it marked our Lord’s headship over the church. It marked our Lord’s headship over the church. Again, in that same text of Ephesians 1:20, where Paul says that He was seated at the right hand in heavenly places, speaking of His ascension, immediately after that there are a couple of statements with regard to demons, and we’ll mention that in a moment. But down in verse 22, he says, “He gave Him, as head over all things, to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
When Christ was exalted to the right hand of God, He was established as the head of the church. The language here is very important; it’s organic. It’s talking about a body; it’s not talking about a kingdom; it’s not talking about a family. The metaphor here is that of a body. And what it signals is that Christ becomes the brain, the dominating power, the source, the force that makes everything happen in the church. He is not just Leader of the church; he’s not just Lord of the church; he’s not just Sovereign of the church and Ruler of the church; He’s the head of the body and infuses His life into the body as every function in the human body finds its source in the brain, so every operation in the church finds its source in Christ.
He establishes Himself as the source. That is such a – that’s such a pervasive reality. That defines everything. Because what we all do in the life of the church has to be what the head of the church wants. We can’t act independently. We can’t act on our own. We can’t decide we’re going to put biblical truth on hold and go operate whatever way we like. We are completely under the dominating force and power and life and impulse of the head who is Christ, who delineates that direction through the revealed word and the work of the Spirit. And it’s a tremendous responsibility to follow the Leader.
It’s also a tremendous joy to know that we have a head who is pouring life and direction into the body. The church literally embodies the very life of Christ. Why? Because it does His will. A body reflects the brain. And so, the church reflects the head: Christ. When Christ was ascended back to the right hand of the Father, He was established as the head of His church, pouring His life in His power and His energy and His truth through His body in the world.
Number eight, while we’re here in Ephesians 1, the ascension marked our Lord’s defeat of Satan. The ascension marked our Lord’s defeat of Satan. You see, from the very beginning, what did Satan want to do? He wanted to dethrone God. Right? “I will; I will; I will; I will; I will,” he says. “I want to be like God; I want to take the throne; I want to be the sovereign.” God threw him out of heaven. So, he lost that battle.
Next he engages himself in fighting Christ. Read Revelation chapter 12. He goes after the male child, right? Why? Because He knows that Christ is the Sovereign Ruler. Christ rules equally with God; Christ will be exalted to the position of authority. So, he wants to dominate Christ. He is in a power struggle with Christ. People are just pawns in that power struggle. We’re not really the object of Satan’s efforts; we’re just pawns along the way. He’s really wanting to dethrone Christ. So, he goes through all of that effort.
But when Christ is on the cross, out of the grave, and exalted to heaven and put at the right hand of God, He has defeated Satan throughout that battle. He has come into the world to defeat the one who has the power of death, the prince of the power of the air; He successfully defeats Satan. He defeats him in His temptation; He defeats him at the cross; He defeats him in the resurrection. He defeats Him by strengthening the disciples before He leaves. And He goes back to glory, to the right hand of the Father, and Satan is finished. He’s engaged in battle with the Son and lost.
You say, “Well, isn’t he still fighting?”
Sure, he’s still in the death throes. Like a chicken with his head cut off, he’s still flailing around. But the die is cast, the sentence is made, and it only awaits the final execution when the King comes back, captures him and throws him in the lake of fire where he perishes in eternal pain.
Verse 21. Verse 20 of Ephesians 1 says, “Christ is seated at the right hand” - that’s the ascension – “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” – and those are terms used to speak of angels; it could be holy angels, but it certainly includes fallen ones – “and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come.” He is the utter superior one. The serpent’s head is crushed. Christ is given sovereignty; Christ is God’s anointed. Satan is defeated and vanquished. And it says, as it does in Romans, that he will be soon under our feet to be appropriately trampled there. This is a monumental event, isn’t it? What is associated with the ascension is dramatic.
Three more. Number nine, it signaled our Lord’s giving the work of ministry to gifted men. It signaled our Lord’s giving the work of ministry to gifted men. In Ephesians, also, while you’re there, chapter 4, verse 8, “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high’” – speaking of Christ - “‘He led captivity captive’” – or He led captive a host of captives. When Christ went back to heaven, it wasn’t alone. He had liberated captives. What is that talking about? Talking about believers, talking about the redeemed. He had come into the world, descended, done an atoning work, liberated Satan’s captives. And then when He got back to heaven, He gave gifts to men.
What were the gifts? Verse 11 tells us. Here the gifts are – there’s a parenthesis in verses 9 and 10. Verse 11, “And He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry to the building of the body of Christ. The ascension of Jesus Christ, He goes into heaven, and from that point on, He anoints gifted men who are given to the church for the work of ministry.
So, it signaled our Lord giving the work of ministry to gifted men. It marked the passing of the work of evangelism to our Lord’s followers. It signals the giving of the work of ministry to build the church to gifted men.
Number 10, the ascension marked the start of our Lord’s high priestly work. It marked the beginning of our Lord’s high priestly work.
You say, “What does that mean?”
That means He’s interceding for us. That means He is going before the Father to defend us against every satanic accusation, and Satan is the accuser of the brethren. It means He is going before the Father, guaranteeing the forgiveness of every sin we will ever commit, no matter how serious. He is going to the Father as one who sympathizes and comprehends and understands personally everything that we suffer and all the pains and difficulties of temptation.
We cast all our care on Him because He cares for us and He carries the burden of all that affection and love and commitment before the throne of God so that we have, in verse 14 of Hebrews 4, “A great High Priest who has passed through the heavens.” That’s the ascension. And verse 15, “He is not a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” We have one who understands all our trials, all our temptation, all our failure. “So” – verse 16 – “we can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He is an unending source of mercy and grace.
So, whenever you go before the throne, that’s what you’re going to receive: mercy and grace. He is a sympathetic, understanding, compassionate, tender High Priest. Over in chapter 7 of Hebrews and verse 25, “He always lives to make intercession for them.” Always that’s what He lives for right now, to make intercession for us, to make sure our sins are continually washed away, to make sure our burdens are continually borne and carried, to make sure that we are continually advocated. He even has the Holy Spirit in us, interceding for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And finally, the ascension guarantee our Lord’s return. If He never went back, He couldn’t come. But as we read in John 14, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” His being in heaven is the guarantee we’re going to be there. It’s the guarantee He’s going to come and get us; He’s going to come back for us and take us to where He is. This same Jesus who is taken up from you shall so come in like manner as you’ve seen Him go. Don’t worry, He’s coming back to take us to be with Him.
The ascension signals all of this. What an event. It indicates our Lord is exalted to a role of sovereignty. It indicates that He goes back to the intimacy that He had with the Father, and all the limitations fall off. It indicates that he sends the Holy Spirit, that He begins to prepare our eternal home, that He takes over the headship of His church, that He defeats Satan, passes evangelism and ministry to His followers, begins the blessed work of intercession and stands ready to return and gather His people into the glories of eternal heaven.
So, as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, s we think about what the Lord accomplished for us, think about it in terms of the ascension which was the Father’s stamp of approval on everything Jesus did. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we are so overwhelmed with the greatness of the ascension of Jesus being taken back to glory. Help us somehow to grasp its significance for us and for Him. And now, as we come to this Table of remembrance, we ask, O Lord, that you would cause us to search our own hearts, to be certain that there’s nothing between us and Thee, nothing dishonoring, no sin harbored and held unconfessed. We cannot mock this blessed Christ; we cannot mock this wondrous grace by holding onto sin, by sinning willfully and flagrantly and blatantly.
Father, we ask that you would cleanse us from any sin, that we would hold nothing back as we come to this table, Amen.
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