What Happened at the Ascension?
The Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are without a doubt the most astounding physical events in our world’s history and they all belong to one person. These are actual historical events. Actual flesh and blood people witnessed them with their own eyes. The words used in this part of the passage provide proof for an actual physical ascension of Christ. There are three completely different Greek words used here to add to the validity of the event. In verse 9, it says he was lifted up. Later in verse 9, it says a cloud took him, and in verse 11, it says he was taken up. Again, each of these has a unique Greek word to describe it. This lends to the credibility. If a person were making these things up, they would not have been as descriptive of exactly what happened.
[box] One historian says about the event that, “either this is a pure fiction that Luke is making up or a physical fact.” There is no in between explanation for it. Christ was not using smoke and mirror ‘David Copperfield’ kinds of tricks. This actually happened. Of course, believing in the inerrancy of Scripture causes us to declare it physical fact. [/box]
This event was just as real and miraculous as the Incarnation and the Resurrection. The Ascension points to the absolute apex of earthly exaltation for the risen Lord prior to his physical return which is also prophesied here. This event was the reward for Christ’s redemptive work on this earth.
In attempting to write my sermon for this week, I came to the realization that I simply could not do this event justice. How can I, a frail human, adequately describe what was happening in this moment? Even Luke, someone who was eloquent and educated, essentially fails to supply anything but the bare facts. There are just not enough superlatives in our language to relay to you the enormity of this event. So I think we are best served to hear about these three concepts from Scripture: What happened as best as we can describe it; what Jesus went on to do after this event, and finally what Jesus will do in the future. The facts of what happened are reasonably straight forward but still hard to describe.
One time, Jonathan and I attended a magic show. This was not your ordinary magic show, because this guy was in a very small space and completely surrounded by people. There were people behind him, in front of him, beside him, and standing very close to him, and he was doing tricks with his hands only! With all of those people surrounding him, he was still able to pull off these tricks. We were amazed! Now, we saw what we thought happened. We saw things disappear. But we also knew they hadn’t really disappeared. It was illusion. We could describe what we saw, but what we saw is not what really happened.
What is a Shekinah Cloud?
Now the events of the ascension were not illusion. They really happened. But humans were witnessing them, and they may not have understood completely.
[box] It says he was taken up from the earth and a cloud surrounded him. This cloud was likely what is called a Shekinah cloud. It is the visible representation of the glory of God. This cloud is something that has made an appearance before in the pages of Scripture. [/box]
The cloud was present at all times when the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. When the cloud moved, they moved. This cloud also appeared at the dedication of the first temple with King Solomon. It became so thick that people had to vacate the building! This cloud also appeared to Isaiah when he had a vision of the Lord seated on his throne. It says that thick smoke filled the room. This is likely what these guys were seeing — the shekinah glory of God. These men who were standing beside them were obviously angelic messengers. There is no other way to explain why they knew all this information about what was happening.
[box] This event was likely less about moving locations and more about a change in his status from the risen Christ to an exalted King. He was being exalted in their sight. When they could no longer look on him and live, then he disappeared from their sight. [/box]
Just like Jesus had a physical body that looked similar to the one he had before the crucifixion, but was now different, So it is that his standing in the universe was changing as they watched as well. He was going from his humiliation as a human to his exaltation as the king of Kings and Lord of Lords.
One other place in scripture that becomes sort of astonishing in terms of the information it provides us is in the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts chapter 7. When Stephen was nearing death, he said something that is actually pretty chill-inducing in light of this account of the ascension.
If you want some further physical proof of the ascension, I believe with all my heart that Stephen provided it in that moment. What Stephen was allowed to see then, as he was dying, was none other than the very throne room of heaven with Christ waiting to receive him. So I think that covers, as best we can, what physically happened.
What Did Jesus Do After the Ascension?
Now, secondly, what became of Christ after the ascension? What did he go on to do? According to Mark, Luke and Acts, he ascended into heaven. According to Colossians and Hebrews, he is seated at the right hand of God. Acts 4 tells us that he bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2 tells us that he added disciples to the church. In Acts 7, he stood to receive the first martyr at the stoning of Stephen. He appeared to Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9. According to Romans and Hebrews, he makes intercession for his people. Also according to Hebrews, he is able to soothe the tempted, to sympathize with us in our weakness and to save to the uttermost those who draw near.
He lives forever according to Hebrews and Revelation. In Hebrews 7,8, and 10, he is our great high priest and that priesthood cannot be violated and can never to be transferred from him. He appears in the presence of God on our behalf according to Hebrews 9. And he is our advocate with the Father in first John. He will reign until all of his enemies are made a footstool, and the last enemy to be conquered will be death according to 1st Corinthians.
[box] So what the Apostles lost in a constant companion and earthly friend — all of us gained in a mighty warrior who intercedes for us as our high priest.[/box]
What Will Jesus Do in the Future?
Now third and finally, what does Scripture say about what will happen with Christ in the future? This same Jesus will come again. Just like these eye witnesses saw him go into heaven, he will come in like manner. This will be a visible and personal return of Christ in glory. This means we will be able to physically see Christ coming, and Christ himself will make this return for his church. This return will be triumphant and all of Christ’s enemies will be defeated.
Jesus said in John 14:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:1-6
In the book of 1st Thessalonians, Paul gives more proof for a visible personal return of the ascended King when he says:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1st Thessalonians 4:16-17
The beautiful part about those promises contained in 1st Thessalonians is that it really doesn’t matter how the world ends after this point does it? There are about as many flavors of Eschatology as there are Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, although I am probably more fond of ice cream than I am of Eschatology, if the truth be told. Some think that Christ will return and set up shop on earth for awhile in Jerusalem. Others think he will judge everyone then and there and be done with it.
You know what I hang onto in 1st Thessalonians? We will be caught up with them–the dead and alive both in Christ and so we will always be with the Lord. That’s good enough for me right there! He can hang around 1000 years or take us straight to heaven. Christ can judge the rest of the situation however he see fit. I’m with Jesus by that time, and so you are you if your faith is in Christ today — so it’s all good from that point.
Are You Benefiting from the Ascension?
As I close today, I want to tell you a story about a guy named Ronald Wayne. His name may ring a bell for you because he is somewhat well known for something that none of us would want to be known for. In 1976 Wayne was a part of a very small start up company that made and sold computers. The name of that company was Apple computers. Because Wayne had been a part of some other ventures that didn’t turn out so great he was what we call risk averse. He didn’t like to take chances with his money.
Even though it was not a lot of money he was still not too sure about investing it. So not too many days later, Ronald Wayne did something that I’m sure he has regretted ever since. He sold his shares of Apple computer for $800! Then for another $1500, he released all future claims against the company. Now of course, many of your minds are fast forwarding to today and the inevitable news that had Ronald Wayne kept his 10% share in Apple, it would now be worth about $93 billion dollars making him the second richest man on earth! Instead, he now lives in a mobile home park in Nevada.
The point I want to make is this. The success of Apple computers did Ronald Wayne no good whatsoever, because he didn’t appropriate it in his life. He didn’t stay invested. This fantastic, unbelievable story of the Ascension today will have no lasting effect on your life, if you have not appropriated it for yourself. If you are not invested, it does you no good.
[box] If Christ is not in heaven doing something on your behalf right now, this is nothing more than just a good story. It doesn’t really mean too much to you personally. The ascension has great power to those whose hearts are changed. Does it have great power for you today? It can! This can be more than just a good story in your life. It can be the difference between spiritual life and death. [/box]
The Ascension can mean that Christ is interceding for you personally — that he is now in his rightful place at the right hand of God and is your faithful high priest. For those of you here today who have experienced the wonderful gift of having been baptized by the Holy Spirit at your conversion, the Ascension means, for us, the start of this thing called the Church. This living breathing organism that has lasted for two thousand years — and will last according to Christ — until he returns. The gates of hell will not prevail against her.
The Church, the group of people Christ purchased with his own blood according to Acts 20–We are a part of that organism today by God’s grace. And it all started on this day–the day when Christ departed. That is the power of the Ascension in our own lives.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://koinoniachurch.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Pastor-Dan.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info] Pastor Dan Woody is a founding elder for Koinonia. He has been serving churches as a pastor for the past 13 years. He and his wife Peggy are the parents of two sons, Chris and Jonathan. Pastor Dan is currently studying for his Mdiv with The North American Reformed Seminary. His interests include music, and most outdoor sports like golf, hiking, tennis and fishing. [/author_info] [/author]