Forty days after Jesus Christ arose from the dead, breaking the bars of death, He ascended up into the heavens. When He ascended into heaven in the presence of His disciples, His hands were extended in blessing over the disciples. We read in Luke 24:50, 51, “And he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.” The last time the disciples saw Jesus, He was in this posture: His arms were extended, His hands were lifted up in blessing over them.
And so He abides today in heaven for us.
The significance of this is shown in Moses, who was a great Old Testament type of Jesus Christ. Turn, in your Bibles, to Exodus 17:11, 12. There in the battle against the Amalekites Moses watched from a hilltop. And he held up his hands. We read this: “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
So long as the church, so long as a child of God, is found under the blessing of Christ (under the extended hands of Christ in blessing), the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. And Christ is the all-powerful One whose arms never grow weary.
This is the meaning of the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. The believer now lives under the arms of Christ which are extended in blessing. Christ has ascended into the heavens to bless His children and church with all the blessings of salvation that He earned for them on the cross and through His resurrection. Over the believer and over the church of Jesus Christ are extended the Lord’s arms in blessing. And nothing can prevail against His cause or work against them to their ruin.
Are you conscious of this? Do you strengthen yourself by this truth? Does this knowledge show itself in your life?
To the wicked and unbelieving, the ascension of Christ is to be viewed in an entirely different way. The Word of God says, in II Thessalonians 1:8, that before them He stands with a flaming sword, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.Psalm 2 describes Him as the One who stands with a rod of iron, who breaks in pieces all who oppose Him. Unbelief and sinful rebellion against the Lord’s Christ is a life which must be lived under the dread and the terror of the mighty God.
But Jesus Christ extended His arms in blessing over His own believing church and children. Do you live conscious of that?
When disappointment struck you this past week, something that cast you down so that you could scream, did you comfort yourself with this truth that the mighty Lord Jesus Christ, the One who purchased salvation powerfully, has His hands extended in blessing over you?
When your plans were upset, when your future became uncertain, when you were tossed to and fro, when confusion settled in your mind, did you remember that Christ, now, is in heaven, there to bless us with all the blessings of salvation?
When tests were taken for cancer, when personal fears of inadequacy mounted within your soul, when there was the voice of self-condemnation screaming within you, did you steady your faith with this knowledge that Christ is in the heavens with His hands extended in blessing over you His child?
When in this past week you were put into a situation in which you had to stand alone in your faith, when there were pressures around you to deny the Lord Jesus Christ and to be conformed to this present world, did you comfort yourself in this: Christ is ascended into the heavens, there to bless you with all the blessings of salvation?
The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven forty days after the resurrection was a great blessing for the church of Jesus Christ. That first blessing is this: it assures believers of the continuous presence of the Savior to bless the believer with the blessings of salvation. You might say that is ironic. The first blessing of the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is that we have His continuous presence? Was He not taken up off this earth away from the church? Was He not lifted up and received into the heavens? Are we not left behind?
We must understand, first of all, that the ascension of Jesus Christ in one sense was a very real departure of Jesus Christ from us. It was a departure of His glorified, risen, human body into heaven. With respect to His human nature, He is no more on earth. The human body of the Lord Jesus Christ which was formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, was born, died on the cross, and arose on the third day is now in heaven. Be clear on that. If I were to ask the children who are listening to this broadcast right now: where is Jesus’ body, the body in which He was born and grew up, the body in which He died on the cross and arose from the dead? What happened to Him? Where is He? Did He disappear? Is He lost? Then, if you know your Bible, even the children would answer, Oh, no! Jesus, in His very real, glorified body, the body through which they drove the nails and pierced His side-in that very body, Jesus is in heaven. And He will stay there until He comes again in the day of judgment. Let us be very clear on that! As far as His human body (His face, eyes, voice) is concerned, Jesus is now seen by the saints in heaven who are with Him in glory.
And in a sense, you understand, Jesus had to ascend. He does not belong to this realm anymore. He has brought His human body to immortality. It is not subject to death. It is a body that belongs in heaven. We read in Acts 3:21, “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” The heavens must receive Him. For forty days after the resurrection He had been on the earth, but not in the way it was before the resurrection. He appeared and He went away. He remained forty days in order to give infallible proof (Acts 1:4) of His resurrection. But after that, He must be going. His glorified body belongs, it fits, its proper place is in heaven with God. Heaven is His home, not this earth of sin, sorrow, and death.
But that does not mean that He is not with us. He is with us as the ascended Lord Jesus Christ in His Spirit. He poured out His Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Christ desires you and me to know that, as the One who has saved us upon Calvary’s cross and is risen from the dead, as the One who possesses life and salvation, He is with us and never absent from us. Our lives are lived under, and with, the presence of our Savior who has entered into us by His Spirit. Jesus Christ is not by our side physically as He was with His disciples, walking with them by the Sea of Galilee. But He is ineach and every one of His children by the power of the Holy Spirit, there to apply powerfully the blessings of His salvation. Jesus was at pains to emphasize that His ascension would mean that His continual presence was assured to His church and people. Matthew 28:20: “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” John 16:7: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away (that I ascend): for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” Jesus was saying there, I must ascend in order that I may come to be with you, in order that I may return in the Holy Spirit as the Lord who possesses full salvation. He ascends ( Acts 2) to receive the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit; and in the Spirit He returns to abide in the hearts of His children. He is never absent from us.
That is the first benefit, the first blessing, of the ascension. Through the ascension of Jesus Christ into the heavens, we have received the continual presence of Christ exactly in the way that we need Him. Not by our sides, physically. But in our hearts, with all the blessings of salvation.
But there is more.
When Jesus Christ ascended, the blessing of it is also this: He is now become our perfect Intercessor (a word the Bible uses) in the presence of His Father in heaven. (An intercessor is one who pleads for another and who brings the needs of another before the throne of God.) He ascended for our best interest, for our good. Christ’s motive is always for our good. He says, “I came for you. I walked on the earth in a vale of sorrows for you. I died for you, in the place of all those whom the Father hath given to Me. I arose for you. And I ascend, not simply for My own glory to leave you behind. But I ascend for you, with you on My heart. I do this for you. For, first of all, I desire that the Holy Spirit be in you to work the blessings of salvation. But, secondly, I desire that all of your needs may now be presented to My Father through My intercession. There is work for Me to do in heaven for you.”
That work does not consist in making payment for our sins. That is finished, that is done. But it consists in bringing our needs to God, representing our case in heaven, so that all grace and mercy may be given unto us sufficient for our needs.
That is the Scripture. We read in I John 2:2 that Jesus Christ is our Advocate in the presence of our Father. He is our legal representative. We read in Romans 8:34 that Jesus Christ is our Intercessor in the presence of God who speaks in our behalf, who is thoroughly acquainted with our situation and pleads our needs. He stands before God. And out of intimate and perfect understanding He brings our needs to the Father. Not in the sense that our heavenly Father does not know those needs. Not in the sense that He is angry and ready to condemn us and needs His Son to appease Him. No! God has placed His Son in this position. Jesus now represents before God the truth that God’s mercy has satisfied for all our sins. He represents the truth that God delights in having His Son speak to Him of all of our needs. And God delights in answering those needs for Jesus’ sake. Right before His throne, in His very presence, stands the Lamb that has been slain and who intercedes saying, “Father, Thy mercy and truth have triumphed. Sins are forgiven to My people. All of their needs are before Thee. Let us bless them with grace and mercy and love.”
Is that not wonderful? That is assurance that I am worthy of God’s presence. I have the right to come to God. Hebrews 4:14-16, I may come boldly before the very presence of God, not doubting and fearful. Do you not ask yourself, even after a little understanding of God in all of His wonderful holiness and a little understanding of yourself and all of your awful sinfulness, “How can I come before God? Would it not be better that I run and hide myself with Adam under the fig leaf?” Remember the publican in Luke 18 who did not dare to look up into heaven? He had sinned so great and so repeatedly. Psalm 3:3 is the answer. “Thou … art the lifter up of mine head.” I may come, even though I know myself unworthy, into the presence of God in the name above all names, the name of Jesus Christ. God says in the ascension, “I place My Son at the door as the One who intercedes.” He beckons through His hands which were pieced, “Come and draw nigh.” He calls upon those for whom He gave His life, all those whom the Father gave to Him. He calls upon them to come, confessing their sins with the assurance that they will in no wise be cast out.
There are some who talk of the need of the intercession of the virgin Mary, of saints, of priest, or of pope. There are others who talk of the need of coming before God on the basis of one’s own good works. That is not true. Mary, saints, priests, popes, every man, every woman needs an intercessor. No one can come before God of himself. Surely, through Jesus Christ. Most assuredly. But only through Jesus Christ.
That is the gospel. That is God’s Word in Jesus Christ. Do not insult God by looking to yourself for the reason. Do not insult God by searching desperately for some shred of merit in yourself whereby you think you may come before God. Come this way: humble, confessing your sins, and praying “for Jesus’ sake,” alone.
All who come to the Father by Him shall be received in mercy. They shall never be cast out. They shall receive all that they need.
We read in Romans 8:26 that we know not what to pray for as we ought. Oh, we pray. We ask God for His mercies. And we ask God that, according to His will, it may be that our loved one be healthy, that our loved one be given repentance, that our burdens in life be lifted. But we are very slow to understand the infinitely wise ways of God. We are short-sighted. We are ignorant of what is best. And we are selfish at heart.
On top of it all, our pride always wants to be the one to direct our lives. We want to say, “I know what is best for me. I know when it is best for me. And I want it now.” We like to have the steering wheel in our own hands. But God says that that is just like giving the steering wheel to a little toddler. What will happen then? A little toddler is going to turn the wheels according to his own merriment. The car is going to crash and people are going to be hurt.
No, you know not what you should pray for as you ought. You ought to pray. You ought to pray earnestly. You ought to pray from your heart. And you ought to pray remembering that you need an intercessor. And that intercessor can only be Jesus Christ. He intercedes for us so that, no, you do not get everything for which you pray. Sometimes you pray very earnestly. Sometimes you cry in the night and God does not answer you in the way you dictated. No, you did not get what you wanted. That is right. But, thank God you did not. You did get in answer to your prayer what you needed according to the wisdom of One who is far greater than you, according to the wisdom of One who loved you even unto death.
Did you get exactly what you needed? Does God hear and answer with grace? Yes. He always hears and answers with grace. He always hears by having His will done. And He does so on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ. God understands our position in this world. He knows exactly how it is. We can never say to Him, Lord, you don’t understand. Yes, He does. For, before His presence stands the Lord Jesus Christ, who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. Now we may pray, we may bring everything before God, we may pour out our soul to God. And we may do so confidently, in the name of Jesus Christ, submissive to the mighty and good will of God. We may pray, Lord, for Jesus’ sake, and as Thou dost will, Lord, grant me Thy help and grace in time of need.
That is the blessing of the ascension.
There is one more blessing to which we need to refer: the ascension of Christ is the pledge that all of the people of God shall be taken up into heaven. The Bible calls Jesus the Head of the church (Eph 1:22, 23), the Head over all things to the church, which is His body.
Does it not follow that wherever the head goes the body must follow? You say, of course. The head of my body decides where I go, and the body follows. Well, then, if Christ has ascended bodily into heaven, is it not the pledge, the indisputable promise, the absolute proof that we, who have been made the members of His body, must go there as well? Do you see Him ascend into heaven? Do you see Him take up His place in the presence of God? By wonderful grace of God, we have been united to Him. We have been made one plant with Him. So we too now sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6, God “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He is your Head and Representative. And, at death, He will take you to be with Him in glory. And when He returns, He will raise the body of believers, reuniting them with their souls. And they, with Him, shall stand before God in fullness of joy.
Do you believe these things? Do you live conscious of the ascension of Jesus Christ and His arms extended in blessing over you? Then you may say with the psalmist: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the truth of the glorious ascension of Jesus Christ into the heavens. Amen.