This week, some in Christian circles will commemorate the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the event in the life of Christ where He leaves earth to join the Father in the heavenlies until the appointed time of His return. At this event, the Lord bids farewell to His disciples, commissions them to build the church, rises up into the clouds and sits down at the right hand of the Heavenly Father where He rules, reigns and intercedes. This event concludes His earthly ministry until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at some point in the future.
I say “some in Christian circles” because as one raised in a born-again church, not much attention was given to the Ascension. We were taught about it in Sunday School but it was not observed or celebrated like we celebrated Christmas and Easter.
I hate to use the word “afterthought” but following Easter Sunday, the next date that we as Pentecostals would pay any attention to was the Day of Pentecost. This was the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the city of Jerusalem and church began. Very little attention was given to the Lord’s leaving this earth despite the fact that it is recorded, taught or alluded to many times in the New Testament.
Now this is not to say that the Resurrection, arguably the most celebrated of Christian events, is not of great importance as to faith. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus had not been resurrected, our faith in Christ would be useless. In Romans 10 he tells us belief in the resurrection of Jesus is necessary for one to become born again. The reason this belief is that it testifies to what Jesus has done for us and as to who He is - the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God Himself. It is to this latter point where the importance of the Ascension is seen.
The Resurrection was a critical moment in the life of Christ. However, this single event is not the sole thing our faith is based on. Neither should it be the sole basis of our witness. People may believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but without faith in the other divine aspects of Jesus, our faith is incomplete and our witness is left wanting. Scripture clearly teaches that for one to be born again, they must believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Both Jesus and the Heavenly Father stated thus. The religious leaders of the time correctly interpreted this claim as to Jesus believing Himself to be equal to God. If one believes in the Resurrection but believes that Christ was a created individual, their faith is imperfect and will not endure. Likewise, a Gospel message based solely on the Resurrection, may not be enough to compel an individual to confess Jesus as Lord, as rising from the dead is something believed in outside of Christianity and that it has been experienced by several ordinary people.
Therefore, in order to make our faith and testimony sure, we must investigate and embrace the totality of whom Jesus revealed Himself to be. Among the non-negotiable tenets of faith would be His eternal existence, the Virgin Birth, His sinless life and His vicarious death.
Which leads us to the importance of the Ascension in the Gospel narrative. The Resurrection was wondrous and glorious. But if we divorce Jesus from the rest of the divine aspects of His life, it is simply not enough to persuade one to believe that Jesus is the one and only Son of God and the exclusive doorway to eternal life. Along with the other things previously referred to is manner of His departure - not by death but by ascension.
Two issues arise without the understanding of His final achievement. First, although powerful, Jesus was not the only person to be raised from the dead. Both Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead as did Jesus. Paul raised two people and a number of dead saints’ tombs were opened and they were seen in Jerusalem following the Lord’s resurrection. Secondly, Paul in 1 Corinthians and Colossians refers to Jesus as the firstborn/first fruits of the Resurrection. How can this be if many were raised before Him?
This is where the record of the Ascension is so critical. All others who rose lived to only die again. But when Jesus rose, He rose to live forevermore. His resurrection was not a postponement of the inevitable. It was a mortal blow to man’s greatest enemy - death. To reiterate this, the Gospel writers explicitly or implicitly taught that at the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He in His glorified, resurrected body, was lifted up to His throne on high.
Let us continue to relish the power of the Resurrection to all who believe in it and the One who was raised. Let us also remember that He who rose from the dead also ascended to heaven to live forever, breaking the curse of death for all of those who are in Christ. And as we witness, may we share that Jesus no longer in Joseph’s tomb and because He ascended, He cannot be found in any tomb.