Jesus’ ascension refers to his return to heaven forty days after his resurrection. This core Christian belief has many significant theological implications. These implications mostly have to do with spiritual maturity!
Becoming more like Jesus is the second of the three stages of our salvation. This second stage is called “sanctification.” Sanctification means becoming more like Jesus during our earthly life.
This article will consider the following:
- Events leading up to the ascension of Jesus back to heaven
- The ascension itself
- Theological implications of the ascension
I. Events Before Jesus’ Ascension
Jesus’ death and physical resurrection are the foundations of the gospel.
In other words: for the gospel to be true, Jesus had to die and rise again. But Christ didn’t just go straight to heaven. Instead, the Lord appeared 11 times during the forty days after his resurrection. And during that time, he appeared to more than five hundred witnesses!
During the 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to:
- Mary Magdalene (John 20:10–18)*
- Mary Magdalene and the other women (Matt. 28:1–10)*
- Peter (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. John 20:3–9)
- Two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35) #
- Ten apostles, without Thomas (Luke 24:36–49; John 20:19–23)* #
- Eleven apostles, including Thomas (John 20:24–31)*
- Seven apostles (John 21) #
- All the apostles at the “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:16–20; Mark 16:14–18) #
- Five hundred disciples (1 Cor. 15:6)
- James (1 Cor. 15:7)
- All the apostles before the ascension (Acts 1:4–8)
Some skeptics claim these appearances were not physical. But the evidence is indisputable. Each of these post-resurrection appearances was undoubtedly the physically resurrected Jesus.
Why am I so confident of that? I am because, in all eleven instances, Jesus was seen and heard. In addition, witnesses touched him four times (*) and physically ate with him four times (#). He exhausted every possible way to prove his appearances were physical. Think about it. Because a spirit is not physical, it cannot be touched or eat.
1. Why are These 11 Post-Resurrection Appearances Important?
We’ve proved that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were physical. Next, I want to explain why they were important.
During these 40 days, Jesus:
- Gave his disciples indisputable evidence of his physical resurrection (Acts 1:3)
- Taught them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)
- Showed how he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (Luke 24:44)
- Interpreted Scripture for them (Luke 24:44–45; Acts 1:3)
- Promised them the Holy Spirit to empower them to be worldwide witnesses (Acts 1:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:10–12)
II. Jesus’ Ascends to Heaven
It can be hard to grasp Jesus’ ascension and what it must have been like for his followers. Thankfully, three New Testament verses describe Jesus’ ascension (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9). Additionally, the ascension is mentioned in an early Christian creed (1 Tim. 3:16).
When we combine these accounts, the following narrative arises. After commissioning his disciples, Jesus led them to Bethany. There, he lifted his hands to bless them. And while blessing them, he was taken up into heaven in a cloud out of their sight (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9). After being taken back to heaven, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
And while the disciples were gazing into heaven, two men in white robes appeared and stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9–11). The angels were referring to Jesus’ Second Coming.
There is also evidence that the first-century Church was aware of Jesus’ ascension. This evidence is an early creed in 1 Timothy 3:16. It refers to the ascension as Jesus being “taken up in glory.”
1. Jesus’ Physical Ascension
Jesus’ resurrected body was the same (albeit immortal) as his crucified physical body (Luke 24:39; John 20:27).
- Jesus’ resurrected body manifested in all his post-resurrection appearances, including his ascension (Acts 1:10-11).
- Scripture also tells us that Jesus remains in the flesh now in heaven (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7; Rev. 5:6).
- At his Second Coming, he will return in this same physical body (Zech. 14:4; Rev. 1:7).
III. Theological Implications of the Ascension
Hopefully, you understand the details and proof of Jesus’ ascension. Next, I’d like to share six key reasons why Jesus’ ascension brings hope to you and me.
1. Jesus’ Ascension Signaled the Successful Completion of His Earthly Ministry
Jesus’ ascension signaled the successful ending of His earthly ministry.
After his ascension, Jesus, our new High Priest, “sat down” at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Heb. 1:3; 8:1).
Why is this particular detail important? Because Jesus “sitting down” proves that his work in providing our salvation is done once forever (Heb. 10:12).
We must remember that the Old Testament priests could never “sit down” in the tabernacle. Firstly, because there was no time to stop making animal sacrifices on behalf of his people. The sacrifices couldn’t permanently take away sins (Heb. 10:11).
A priest’s work was constant. He could never stop and sit down. Secondly, there wasn’t a chair in the tabernacle, ensuring the priest never stopped his work. !
On the other hand, Jesus’ sacrificial death changed everything (Heb. 10:12). His sacrifice on the cross once and for all time provides us salvation.
And after Jesus’ ascension, he entered the heavenly tabernacle and sat down. In other words, as our High Priest, Jesus sitting down, demonstrates, no more sacrificing must be done on our behalf.
2. Christ’s Ascension Returned Him to His Exalted Role
Jesus’ ascension marked his return to his heavenly glory. He is seated at God’s right hand, the exalted place of highest honor and authority (Acts 2:33–35). And he was given a name above all names (Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9–11).
3. The Ascension Prepared the Way for Christ to Send the Holy Spirit
After he ascended, Jesus fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit.
And now, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, indwells every Christian (John 16:7; 20:17).
- He works in us (Phil. 2:12–13), with us (Mark 16:20), and for us (Rom. 8:28)
- He draws us to Christ to be saved (redemption)
- His indwelling also allows us to live more like Jesus (sanctification)
Jesus is the head over the Church (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:20–23). And through the Holy Spirit, Jesus governs and empowers her to evangelize the world (Matt. 28:19; John 12:32; 15:1–10; Acts 1:8).
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit gives every Christian a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 4:7–8) for the building up of the Church.
IV. Jesus’ Ascension Allowed Him to be Our High Priest, Advocate, and Mediator
Seated at the Father’s right hand, Jesus intercedes for our sins (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). This intercession is good news for us because Jesus is a perfect advocate and mediator.
Jesus is the perfect mediator because he is fully God and fully human. Only Jesus can perfectly represent man to God as our advocate (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1).
Jesus paid the full price for our sins on the cross.
As our advocate (1 John 2:1), Jesus defends us against Satan’s constant accusations (Job 1:5-12; Rev. 12:10) before God (Heb. 9:24). He can do this not because of anything we do but based on what he did on the cross (Heb 10:12-14).
Without Christ’s advocacy, we would not be able to enter heaven because God is holy (Lev. 11:45; Isa. 6:1-7; Hab. 1:13). God cannot tolerate sin in his divine presence (Rev. 22:15)
So, God the Father only sees Christ’s righteousness when he looks at us. And as a result: he dismisses Satan’s accusations (2 Cor. 5:21).
V. Jesus is Preparing a Place for His People
Christ’s ascension promises our ascension into heaven (1 Thess. 4:17), where he is preparing a final home for each of us to be with him (John 14:2-4).
VI. Jesus’ Ascension Promises His Second Coming
Christ’s ascension to heaven promises his return to earth. This event is called his “Second Coming” (Matt 24:30; Rev 1:7). Jesus will return as the reigning Messiah (Acts 3:20–21) and establish his kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:24–26).
At Jesus’s Second Coming, all people will see him as he descends visibly in the clouds (Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7).
The promise of his second coming encourages us (Matt. 28:19; Heb. 12:1-2). We can:
- Endure trials and evangelize boldly
- Be sure that our labor is never in vain for his kingdom now and to come
VII. What’s Your Next Step?
Christ’s bodily ascension encourages us to live more like him because:
- His once-forever sacrificial death guarantees that we are part of God’s family
- Christ intercedes on our behalf, defending us against Satan’s accusations
- Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to live more like Jesus. And the Holy Spirit gives every Christian a spiritual gift to build up the Church
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- Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 2008), 161
- Got Questions Ministries, Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2002–2013).
- Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 619-620.
- B. Polhill, “Acts.” In Holman Concise Bible Commentary edited by D. S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 495
- Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 313.
- H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992) 620.
- W. Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 280.
- S. Wright, “Ascension.” In New Bible dictionary 3rd ed., edited by D. R. W. Wood et al. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 91