“Given the place of the ascension in the New Testament (especially in the Epistles), it is surprising that it plays a relatively minor role in the faith and practice of the church. Though affirmed, it does not seem to occupy the same status as Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.” (The Christian Faith, p.533)
Horton is in no way overstating the case. We as believers should esteem the ascension of our Lord Jesus much more highly than we commonly do – even as highly as His incarnation, death, and resurrection. His ascension plays every bit as much a part in Christ’s accomplishment of our salvation as His incarnation, death, and resurrection.
Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed include Christ’s ascension as an essential truth of the Christian faith:
- “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”
- “and [He] ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father;” (The Nicene Creed)
Not only is the historical fact of His ascension recorded for us in the Gospels (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53) and in the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-11), but references to it are found throughout the rest of the New Testament as well.
A simple search of passages in the New Testament that speak of Christ being exalted to ‘the right hand of God’ comes up with nearly two dozen instances, a number of which include quotes from Psalm 110:1 (i.e. “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” ESV)
The book of Acts refers to Christ’s ascension repeatedly. (It cannot be understood properly apart from it!) The book of Hebrews does the same. One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that Christ is reigning over all things for His church and will return in glory to judge the living & the dead.
The Apostle Paul refers to Christ’s ascension repeatedly in his letters. For example, in the book of Ephesians, he points us to it no less than three (3) times. In Ephesians 1:15-23 he writes,
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (ESV)
In the very next chapter Paul goes on to apply this great reality and doctrine in the lives of believers. In Ephesians 2:4-7 he writes,
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
So God not only made us alive together with Christ and saved us by grace (v.5), but He also “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ! By virtue of our union with Christ (which in some ways was the grand theme or at least recurring sub-theme of Ephesians 1:3-14), believers died with Christ, were raised with Christ, and have even been seated with Him in the heavenly places!
But Paul isn’t done yet! In Ephesians chapter 4 he goes into some detail about the results of Christ’s enthronement in heaven. In Ephesians 4:7-13 Paul (quoting Psalm 68:18), says that Christ giving Spiritual gifts to His church was the result of His ascension:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (ESV)
Does the New Testament’s emphasis on the ascension of Christ surprise you? It probably shouldn’t. Christ’s work as our Mediator – His present & ongoing work for our salvation as our great Prophet, Priest, and King, all involve His ascension to the right hand of God the Father. (Again, see the book of Hebrews.)
May God grant us understanding into these things (even as Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:15-23, above), and move our hearts by His Holy Spirit, that we might be more inclined to live, worship, witness, and work in light of the truth that our faithful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is even now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, reigning over all things for the sake of His church!