Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Ascension of Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds you, after His resurrection, Jesus physically ascended.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve seen, I think, too much sci-fi stuff in our day, so it’s easy to imagine Jesus being beamed up to another universe. That’s not what happened. He was taken up bodily to a real place where God lives.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, April 8, 2015.

Nancy’s in the final week of a series we began at the beginning of the Lenten season. The series is called "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy: Well, over these last several weeks, we have had the privilege of walking with Jesus through His earthly life and ministry, and we’ve seen that He is truly the incomparable Christ in every way, starting, as we did, weeks ago with His incarnation. When He was born, He came to this earth as a human baby, put on human flesh, and it’s been fun to read some of the comments that have been coming in from listeners posted on the comment blog there at ReviveOurHearts.com or emails.

One listener said, “Wow! I admit that I am one of those believers who has had a ho-hum attitude when it comes to the incarnation, and with the admission of that sin, I am free to marvel.”

I love that! So many of us are ho-hum. I confess that I often am ho-hum about these things that so many of us have heard about and known about all our lives. Some of you are newer to the faith. But I heard about this in the nursery. Before I came out of my mom's tummy, I was hearing this stuff all the time.

When we confess that ho-hum attitude about Christ, then we are free to marvel. He truly is the incomparable Christ.

Well, I want us to see today that Jesus’ exit from this world was no less miraculous than His entrance into it thirty-three years earlier because forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended back into heaven. In Jesus’ ascension, we have another reason, among many, to marvel at the incomparable Christ.

Now, we know that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, on Sunday. That means that Ascension Day falls on a Thursday forty days after Easter. Many churches in the U.S. celebrate Ascension Day on the following Sunday.

Before His death Jesus had spoken of the day when He would return to the Father in heaven. He said in John 6, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to [the One] who sent me” (v. 62). We have in the Scripture two accounts of the ascension recorded by Dr. Luke, one in the Gospel of Luke, the other in the book of Acts, and I’d like to read just a brief portion from each of those.

Luke 24, beginning in verse 50,

Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany [which is a little town just outside of Jerusalem], and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God (vv. 50–53).

Don’t you love the way that Jesus left? He was blessing His disciples, always thinking of others, loving them, blessing them. He parted from them “while He blessed them.” He was blessing them, and while He was still blessing them, He departed from them and was carried up into heaven. As we read other parts of the Scripture, we realize that He is still blessing those disciples and us from His ascended place in heaven.

He blessed them. My heart is comforted and encouraged and strengthened by the thought of Jesus blessing me. Even at those times when He seems to be so far, seems to be carried away and outside of the scene of my life, He is still blessing me. The interesting thing is when they returned to Jerusalem, what did they do? They blessed Him. We bless Him. As we have received a blessing from Him, we return that blessing back to Him and then can bless others with the blessing we have received from Him.

Then it says they returned to Jerusalem with “great joy.” That phrase struck me because I think how different things were now than during the events surrounding His death less than six weeks earlier. After the crucifixion the disciples had been discouraged, grieving, doubting, troubled, and after the ascension they were joyful.

Now, you say, "He leaves them and they’re joyful? How can there be great joy when He’s just left them?" Well, they had come to understand during that forty-day ministry between the resurrection and the ascension the need for Him to leave and the blessings that would be theirs once He returned to heaven.

Acts chapter 1 records the ascension this way in verse 9,

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Now, the ascension of Christ is something of a neglected doctrine today. We don’t hear a lot of teaching on it. Sometimes I think we tend to treat it as a kind of “footnote” to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—not part of the main text, kind of an afterthought. But I want us to realize today that the ascension of Christ is indeed a vital doctrine.

It is essential to the Christian faith, and it has significant implications for our lives here on earth. In recent years I found myself, through further study, growing in my own understanding of how important the ascension is. I’m still studying that, still learning new things, and I just want to share with you today a little bit of what the Lord has been showing me.

For example, we read in Oswald Sanders’ book, The Incomparable Christ, that

The redemptive work of Christ rests on four pillars—incarnation [when He came to earth as a babe], crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.”

That’s one of the four pillars, according to Oswald Sanders.

The ascension was a complete and final demonstration that His atonement had forever solved the problem created by man’s sin and rebellion.

That’s pretty important. It’s a part of His redemptive work, that ascension.

So I want to make several observations about the ascension account itself. Some of these may seem pretty obvious, but I have found it helpful and encouraging to ponder these things. First of all, the ascension was both an end and a beginning. It marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the end of His humiliation. At the same time, it marked the beginning of His exaltation that we read about in Philippians 2 and His heavenly ministry on our behalf.

He had been sent to earth by the Father to do the Father’s will, and now He had accomplished what He had been sent to do. His work was complete. Now Jesus was leaving the earth and going back to be with His Father. For those years He was here on earth, He had laid aside the glory that He had in heaven, in order to come to this earth as a man, and now He was being exalted back to that glorious place.

Then we see that in the ascension Jesus was taken up in a cloud. That’s not an insignificant detail. The cloud in the Scripture is a symbol of the presence and the glory of God, the Shekinah glory of God that manifested itself to the Old Testament Jews in a cloud, a pillar of cloud, the cloud that rested on Mount Sinai when God was revealing the Ten Commandments, the cloud that came and surrounded Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration after Moses and Elijah appeared there with Jesus. Now the cloud symbolizes at the ascension that Jesus is entering back into the glory of God.

Now, Jesus had prayed and longed for this day. Remember His high priestly prayer in John chapter 17? He says,

[God], I [have] glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (vv. 4–5).

Jesus had longed for this moment. It was His desire to be back in the presence of His Heavenly Father, and so this cloud that took Him up to heaven was a symbol of the presence and glory of God as He was ascending to the right hand of the throne of God.

It’s important, too, that we realize that the ascension was physical and visible. Think about that for a moment. If Jesus had just vanished into thin air without a trace, skeptics then and now could have claimed that his resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances never happened, but eye-witnesses saw Him bodily, physically, visibly taken into heaven.

Then it’s important to realize that in so doing, in the ascension Jesus retained His human, physical body. His body didn’t just dissolve or disappear. I think sometimes we have this sense—and I think I did until a few years ago as I really began thinking about this—we know that Jesus became a baby at Christmas, the incarnation; we know that He lived and died and was resurrected and went back to heaven. Sometimes I think we have this sense that when He went back to heaven, He shed His physical body. He stopped being a man—that He was only in human flesh for the time He was here on this earth, but not so according to Scripture.

Here’s what the Scripture tells us. We know that at the first coming, He took on our humanity, our human flesh. He became a man. And during this series we have looked at the importance and the implications of His humanity, why He had to become a man for the plan of redemption to be accomplished. So at His first coming, He became a man.

At the resurrection, He defeated death and took on an eternal, resurrected body, but it was a body, a physical body, a glorified body, a resurrection body. His disciples could touch Him. He said to Thomas, “Touch My hands. Touch My feet. Look at Me.” He ate. He had a physical body after the resurrection.

In the ascension He went back to heaven as a man in a physical, human body. He remains a physical man today in heaven. At His second coming, He will come back to this earth in that same physical body, at which point He will raise our bodies to be like His.

Randy Alcorn puts it this way, "Jesus has become a permanent member of the human race." Not just while He was down here on earth, but a permanent member of the human race. He will be forever fully God and fully man—the God/man, the perpetual, continual, eternal incarnation of Christ, not just while He was here on this earth, but forever in heaven.

Then we see that He ascended from earth to a physical place. Now, we’ve seen, I think, too much sci-fi stuff in our day, so it’s easy to imagine Jesus being beamed up to another universe. That’s not what happened. He was taken up bodily to a real place where God lives.

Now, I want to say that real place is something we can’t fathom. It has dimensions to it that we are not capable of grasping, but the Scripture says He was taken “into heaven.” It’s a place, and He was seated at the right hand of God.

You say, "Why is that important?" Well, His bodily ascension to a physical place (that is heaven) guarantees our future bodily ascension to heaven. It guarantees that we will be physically with the Lord in that place that is the presence of God.

Then we see that His ascension was accompanied by a promise. You’re familiar with that promise, but we should never get tired of hearing it. Acts chapter 1, verses 10 and 11,

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men [we know them to be angels] stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.

So there’s the promise that one day there will be the visible, bodily return of Christ, and we’re going to come back to that subject a couple days from now when we come to the end of this series. But I want to take just a few moments for the rest of this session to ponder what happened once He got to heaven, and what implications does that have for us right now while we’re still here on this earth? There are many things we could say, but let me just highlight three that I think are particularly important for us.

First of all, the Scripture tells us that when He got to heaven, He sat down, a symbol, an evidence, a picture that the redemptive work was finished! Now, as we’ll see in the next session, the fact that He is sitting down does not mean that He’s sedentary. He is still very active, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

But He sat down, and where did He sit down? Well, Hebrews 1 tells us, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3). Hebrews 10 puts it this way,

When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet (vv. 12–13).

The final victory is yet to come, but He’s sitting down next to that throne, on that throne, as a symbol of the victory that is His as the reigning King. There’s an implication in that for us: Through faith, we are “in Christ,” the Scripture tells us. It says that we’ve been united with Him in every aspect of His redemptive work (see Romans 6:5).

Romans 6 says that we were crucified with Him; we were buried with Him (see vv 4–10). Then Ephesians 2 tells us that,

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ [crucified with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him], and [He has] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (vv 4–6).

Some of this is mind-boggling, I understand, we can only understand the faint edges of this. But it should bolster our faith, our courage, and our joy when we realize that we have not only been crucified with Christ as He died in our place as our substitute. But when He died, we died; He was buried, we were buried; when He was raised from the dead, we were raised from the dead with Him to walk in newness of life with Him. Now we have been ascended and raised and seated with Him in the heavenly places.

The whole book of Ephesians is predicated on that supposition, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

So as we do spiritual warfare, as we engage in promoting and proclaiming Christ’s kingdom here on earth, we don’t do it from under the circumstances or under the powers of this world. We do it from a place by faith seated with Christ in the heavenlies. This has huge implications for our faith.

So, He sat down when He got to heaven, and then—this flows out of the first point—He received glory, honor, and authority from God when He got to heaven. He was established as Head over the Church.

Let me just read to you a paragraph from Ephesians chapter 1. Ephesians 1, verse 20 says that,

[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (vv. 20–23).

This is all part of what happened in the ascension when Jesus Christ went back to heaven and was seated on the right hand of God. He received glory and honor and authority and power from the Heavenly Father and was established, coronated, as King and Head over His Church. So as His representatives here on earth, as His Body here on earth, there’s a sense in which we share in the authority that has been given to Him. And this is the position, as I said a moment ago, from which we engage in spiritual warfare.

Then we have that incredible hope that in the age to come we will experience that position and that authority even more fully as we reign and rule with Him over His creation, over angels, and over the nations. This is what we have to look forward to as we realize, as we see with eyes of faith Christ who has ascended, raised, seated at the right hand of the throne of God with all powers and dominions and authorities under His feet.

We, too, will reign with Him, and that’s where we have this incredible promise in Revelation chapter 3,

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (v. 21).

This is all part and parcel of what it means to be in Christ, the ascended Savior.

Then from heaven, Jesus, the ascended Christ, gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. He sent that gift to His Church here on earth as He promised He would. We read about that in Acts chapter 2.

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing (v. 33).

This is in Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first poured out to the disciples.

Jesus went to heaven. He received the gift of the Spirit from the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on His Church here on earth. If Jesus had not ascended to heaven, the Spirit would not have been given. The Church would not have been birthed.

What an incredible gift that Jesus ascended to heaven and sent His Holy Spirit to us, and that means that the life, the heart, the character of Christ indwells every believer here on this earth! If you’re a child of God, you have that Holy Spirit living in you, giving you grace and power and the presence of Christ to serve Him here on this earth, and with the Spirit, with the gift of the Spirit to His Church, Jesus gave spiritual gifts to His Body here on earth.

Listen to this verse in Ephesians chapter 4. It’s an amazing verse and has much more to it than we have time to unpack today, but just let it touch your heart. It says,

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men" (vv. 7–8).

Now, let’s just ponder that for a moment here. Paul is quoting from Psalm 68, verse18, which is a victory hymn of David where he celebrates God’s conquest of the city of Jerusalem. It’s a picture of how after a military triumph the king would return home to the capitol city bringing the spoils and the prisoners of war.

Well, in Ephesians 4, it says, “When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” That’s a picture of Jesus returning home to heaven after His battle on earth, bringing with Him the trophies of the great victory He had won on the cross.

He had been triumphant over demonic powers, over death, and He brought with Him the testimony, the trophies of the sinners that He had rescued from Satan’s domain and control. Those are the captives. He led us willing captives in His train, so to speak, and Satan, an unwilling captive in His train.

He led a host of captives when He ascended on high, and from the spoils of His victory, He gave gifts to men. He gave the gifts of the Spirit to believers here on earth. Ephesians 4 tells us He gave gifted men to the church to equip His people for the work of the ministry (see vv. 11–12). And the Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4 and Ephesians 4 that He gave spiritual gifts to every believer along with the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the greatest gift of all, to enable us to serve Him here on this earth.

So, as one commentator said,

The Cross was the decisive and atoning conflict; the resurrection was the proclamation of the triumph; the ascension was the Conqueror’s return with the captives of war which issued in the enthronement of the victorious King.1

That ascended King, as we will see tomorrow, is alive today and actively working on our behalf in heaven. Thank You, thank You, Lord! Amen.

Leslie: We’ve been exploring a somewhat neglected episode in the life of Jesus, and as we’ve just heard from Nancy Leigh DeMoss, it’s a very important event. That message is part of a major series from Nancy called "The Incomparable Christ."

It has made this year's Easter season far more memorable for our listeners. The series will come to a close this Friday. To get a copy on CD, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. It would be a perfect series to review each Easter season. This series and all the teaching on Revive Our Hearts is making a big difference in the lives of women. Nancy has an example.

Nancy: “At the time of my son’s diagnosis with autism, I felt I was drowning.” That’s what a woman named Wendy wrote to us. Because of her husband’s job, they had moved a lot, so when they received this diagnosis of autism, Wendy and her husband were far away from family and didn’t have a lot of support around them.

Well, God used Revive Our Hearts to encourage Wendy during this time, and He continued to do so when her second son was diagnosed with autism as well. She wrote, “Revive Our Hearts has been the Titus 2 older woman for me. The radio program has met my deep hunger for learning the Word of God, giving me biblical perspective on all areas of life, and encouraging me in my calling as a wife and mother.”

I’m so thankful that Revive Our Hearts has been available to Wendy all these years. It’s been possible thanks to listeners who support the ministry financially. When you provide a gift to Revive Our Hearts, it helps us to be there for women like Wendy when they need to be pointed to God’s Word.

Leslie: And when you donate any amount, we’ll say "thanks" by sending you the book by Oswald Sanders that was the basis for our current series. It’s called The Incomparable Christ. The book will lead you through an exploration of the character and life of Jesus. You’ll consider aspects of His life you’ve never noticed before. This is a special Revive Our Hearts edition of the book.

Ask for The Incomparable Christ when you donate any amount. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We’ll send one book per household for your donation this month.

Once Jesus ascended to heaven, what did He begin doing? What is He doing now? Tomorrow, Nancy will show you that Jesus is very active right now. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1J. Oswald Sanders. The Incomparable Christ. Quoting R. H. Laver, p. 337.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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