“And he led them out as far as Bethany, 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.” (Luke 24:50-53)
Christ’s Ascension is a part of every Christian creed but until recently I had never really reflected on what it truly meant for us as Christians. As I looked into the Scriptures, I was amazed to read what had always been there but which I had overlooked. I believe it’s good for us to be familiar with what happened and then to take some time to reflect on what it means for us as Christians.
The Ascension happened 40 days after Easter. When we look at the significance of 40 days in the Bible, we see it took Moses and the Israelites 40 years to enter the Promised Land. We also see that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry. One author has said that the number 40 in the Bible signifies a time of preparation and transition. I think we can see this in the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness and Jesus’ time in the desert and I think we can see this happening in the movement from Easter to Pentecost.
Jesus spent these 40 days teaching and preparing his disciples for what was in store for them. The Ascension marks the moment Jesus literally ascended into heaven in the company of his closest friends.
In Luke’s account here he tells us that when Christ left, they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Their mood after the Crucifixion was anything but joyous. They were full of sorrow, and they were frightened. I think even the Resurrection left them a bit confused and unsure. But in those days leading up to the Ascension Jesus must have brought them into a new place and time – they were full of joy and they blessed and worshiped God. Gone was the fear and gone was the grief. So what do you think happened to make this radical shift?
I picture Jesus, gathering his disciples, sitting with them, eating with them, and sharing with them why it was necessary for him to leave. His words from John 16 must have come back to them. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Pentecost is the result of the Ascension! If Jesus had not ascended the Spirit would not have come!
I see the genesis of Paul’s words in Colossians – “Your life is now hidden with me” (Col. 3:3). In a very real way when Jesus ascended, he took us with him. Another author has put it like this: “Our eternal redemption was secured—not simply by Jesus dying on the cross—but through Jesus entering heaven by means of the cross. The profound reality is a human, though being God, sits on heaven’s throne." Christ bears forever the signs of his humanity and his death: the pierced side and the scars on his hands and feet. Reflect on that a moment…
The Ascension in one sense completes the work Jesus undertook in the Incarnation—He became human, and as a human he suffered, he died, he rose from the dead, and he was resurrected! And now he returns to heaven in his humanity but never losing the fact of his divinity! No wonder the disciples rejoiced!
“But Christ’s Ascension is the pledge of our own. Filled with an immense hope, the Church looks up toward her leader, who precedes her into the heavenly home and takes her with Him in His own person” -St. Leo
As the disciples went in joy and worship, they knew that at this moment in time heaven was now opened to human beings, that heaven was their new and eternal home – and so it is with us. As Christ ascended heaven became our realized hope, the home opened to us by the shedding of Christ’s blood. “Heaven is what Christ gives back to us…” (Alexander Schmemann).
Please take this opportunity as the Church celebrates the Ascension to do your own study of the Scriptures. Look at Leviticus 17, Hebrews 9, John 12 and John 16; Luke 24, and Mark 16; Colossians 3 and 1 Timothy 2. Let the Holy Spirit smuggle these truths into your heart.