The Ascension of Jesus: A Biblical Sketch

Thursday past marked the Feast of the Ascension. At the Ascension, Christians celebrate the taking up of Christ to heaven as the Exalted One. The Ascension must be one of the most neglected and least understood doctrines in the Christian tradition, particularly in the West. Is this partly down to the fact that it is usually celebrated during the Week (on a Thursday) rather than having a Sunday devoted to it? Might its neglect also be partly the result of the relative neglect of Hebrews in Christian teaching and preaching? In this post, I provide a brief biblical sketch of the Ascension (adapted from Bird’s EvTh). The significance of the Ascension for other Christian doctrines and the whole of Christian life shines through.

1. Pneumatology: Who The Holy Spirit is

Jesus ascends to give the Spirit and launch the next stage in the new eschatological age.

Luke 24:49; John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:8, 2:33

2. Mission: What the People of God are to Proclaim

Why is the Spirit given? The Spirit is given not only to show that the new age is dawning but also to empower disciples to testify about Jesus. In other words, Jesus ascends to inaugurate the mission of God’s people.

John 15:26-27; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8

3. Christology: Who Jesus is

a. The Ascension confirms Jesus’s divine authority as the Exalted One

Psalm 110; Acts 2:24-25; 1 Cor 15:24-25; Heb 1:3

b. At the Ascension, Jesus never loses his humanity. His ascension confirms that he is the true human.

Gen 1:27-28; Psalm 8:5-6; Acts 1:11; Hebrews 1:5-13

4. The Trinity: Who God is

“The ascension of Jesus indicates the beginning of a Trinitarian worship” (Bird, EvTh 2nd ed., 509).

Matthew 28:9, 17, 19-20; Lk 24:52; Acts 1:8

5. Eschatology: What the Hope of the People of God is

a. Since Christ’s ascension is not so much a farewell as it is a royal coronation, it therefore guarantees the longed-for parousia or second-coming of Jesus, when he will fully complete the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Acts 1:11

b. Christians begin to reign with Christ in part, as a foretaste of their role as co-rulers in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Now, In Part: John 17:22; Eph 2:6; Col 3:1

Then, In Full: 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26, 3:21; 5:10; 20:6; 22:5

6. Discipleship: Who the People of God are and How they Grow

a. Prayer: The ascended Christ intercedes for us and, as Mediator and High Priest, draws us into the prayer life of the Trinity!

John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23;26; Eph 2:6; Heb 6:19-20; 7:25; 10:19-23

b. Identity and Ethics: the ascension of Christ guarantees that we, by grace, share in his Priestly identity as the Royal Priesthood, with all the responsibilities and duties this entails.

Gen 1:27-28; John 17:13-19; Eph 2:6-9; Col 3:2; 1 Pet 2:5, 9-10

Image Credit: Paul Gilmore, Unsplash.

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