Today is Ascension Sunday, the day the church remembers that 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus went up to the right hand of the Father.
We know something of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If He didn’t rise, He didn’t conquer death, and we are still in our sins. But what is the point of His ascension? Wouldn’t it better for the church if He were still here working miracles and showing His healed hands and feet? It’s here that we generally stop understanding the story.
Paul says in Phil. 2:5-11: “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus descended to earth, became a baby, grew up, learned wisdom, fulfilled the law, condemned the unrighteous, suffered at the hands of sinful men, went into the grave and rose victorious on the third day. But His coronation was not yet complete because He hadn’t come into the throne room of God. As the humanity Jesus had to be received by Father in heaven, and He did so in order reign from heaven.
Jesus did justice and healed people and battled oppression in Israel when He was on earth, but His project is much bigger. In order to bring salvation to all the world, working through it like leaven through the dough, He had to go to Father, be crowned, and begin reigning.
This is why Paul sees the Ascension driving His mission: “9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”. Jesus told the disciples this would be for their good: “7 Nevertheless, 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. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:7-9).
The Spirit descended from heaven on Pentecost, but Jesus had to ascend there in order to send Him. This was one of His first decisions as the reigning king. Man went to heaven so that heaven could come to man.
Augustine on Ascension Day:
“This festival confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing … his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless.”
Jesus ascended and His entire mission was completed and crowned with Him. This is why you are hearing about and seeing it extend across the world. He calls to confess our sins and continue with Him as it spreads.