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The Significance of the Ascension

"The Ascension" by William Blake

It seems a bit strange to be writing about the Ascension on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent. However, I want to continue with our journey through The Apostles' Creed. And if you want to know more about the meaning of Shrove Tuesday in the context of the Church Year, I encourage you to read the blog of an acquaintance of mine, Malcolm Guite, by clicking here: Shriven & Ready.

So, on with the Ascension. So far, we have examined the biblical meaning of the Ascension of Jesus, but what is its meaning? The event of the Ascension is recorded only in Mark, Luke, and Acts, but the significance of this event is proclaimed throughout the New Testament. One of those places is in the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:32-36....
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 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 both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,“Sit at my right hand,until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.
The significance of the Ascension, as we confess in The Apostles' Creed, is that in being taken up into heaven, Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. And, as David prophesied, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.

However, what do we mean when we say that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God the Father? Does this mean that there is a decorated chair on which Jesus is sitting? I do not believe so. Rather, when we say that Jesus sat down, we are confessing that  Jesus finished the sacrificial work that he came to do here on earth.

And what was the work that Jesus finished, signified by his "sitting down"? Jesus finished the work of dying for our sins and conquering death. Hebrews 10:12 puts it succinctly, "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God?"

But what does that last bit mean, about Jesus sitting on the right hand of God? J. I. Packer explains: "'On the right hand of God' signifies not a palatial location but a regal function." When we say that Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father, we are saying that Jesus is in the place of honour. In terms of royal government, we are confessing that Jesus reigns.

The picture here is one of a ruling king and the person to whom the king delegates the daily tasks of ruling and governing. The one who sits at the right hand of a king is his assessor. In modern times we might think of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For all practical purposes, the Prime Minister is the leader of Great Britain, but Elizabeth is still queen. Her authority to rule in the daily matters of state are delegated to the Prime Minister.

When it comes to the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, we can say that the Father has delegated all authority to rule in the daily matters of universal government of heaven and earth to the Son. Of course, the analogy to Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister breaks down at a certain point. The Prime Minister is not royalty, but Jesus is. He is the Son of God and King of kings. Furthermore, the Prime Minister is elected by the people of Great Britain. Jesus is not elected by his people. He is a benevolent dictator appointed by God the Father to rule and reign.

To sum up, we can say that Jesus truly inaugurated his kingdom at the moment of the Ascension. When he ascended to heaven he ascended to his throne. He now rules and reigns in glory.

The story is told that one one occasion Michelangelo turned to his fellow artists and said with frustration in his voice, "Why do you keep filling gallery after gallery with endless pictures on the one theme of Christ in weakness, Christ on the cross, and most of all, Christ hanging dead? Why do you concentrate on that passing episode as if it were the last word, as if the curtain dropped down there on disaster and defeat? That dreadful scene lasted only a few hours. But to unending eternity Christ is alive; Christ rules and reigns and triumphs!"

If Michelangelo did indeed say that, then I believe in one sense he was right. Even though the cross is vitally important because of the redemption Jesus accomplished for us there, we must not emphasize his death to the exclusion of his resurrection victory and his ascension to his throne where he now reigns. That is the significance of the ascension: Jesus reigns.

But what difference does Jesus' ascension make to your life and mine? I hope to address this important question tomorrow....

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