One of the great works of Jesus Christ for our salvation was His ascension into heaven. Of all of His great works, this is the one that is least known and remembered. This week Thursday, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is going to celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. Forty days after He arose from the dead and burst the bands of death asunder, He parted the heavens and entered into the presence of God for us.
Often when we look upon the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ we tend to view it as something that has put distance between Him and us. We think of His coming to the earth and His birth, and we cannot but think of that in terms of the Lord coming, oh, so near to us. He stooped low. He became a partaker of our human nature and all of its lowliness. He was not ashamed to call us His brethren in order that in our flesh He might make a perfect sacrifice for our sins. But the ascension? We tend to think of that in terms of distance. Christ, now, is separated from us. In the body He is not more with us on the earth.
But that impression is not correct. That impression is not one that we would glean from the Scriptures. And it is the Scriptures that must govern our eyes and determine our attitude and also show us the benefits of our salvation.
The apostle Peter in his first epistle, chapter 3, speaks to us of the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does so in order to give to us today unshakable comfort and powerful encouragement. He writes the entire epistle to us as we are made elect strangers (chapter 1:1, 2). Elect – that is, chosen graciously of God eternally unto salvation. And strangers – that is, pilgrims on the earth, called by His grace out of a fallen world and made to be members of that world which is to come, traveling now on to heaven. Thus, he writes to us as those who must live out of hope. Hope is the key and central idea of I Peter. He says to us in chapter 1:13 that that hope is set before us in the words of perfect life in Jesus Christ. He says to us, further, that right now we are in heaviness, through many trials and many troubles. The ones to whom he is writing were falsely accused and were made to suffer for righteousness’ sake. They were cruelly abused by an unbelieving and hateful world.
But then Peter directs us to Christ for our encouragement and comfort. He reminds us that Christ has suffered for us and that this risen Christ is the assurance of our salvation and is now ascended up into heaven for us. He tells us that this is something of comfort and encouragement to every child of God who possesses that hope in Christ, every child who now, for the sake of Christ, must endure all the trials of this present life. The ascension of Jesus Christ is the source of unspeakable comfort and encouragement to you as a child of God.
Peter writes, in chapter 3:22, “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”
There are three particular statements in that verse of Scripture which we must examine briefly. The three of them combined teach the wonderful truth of the ascension.
The first statement: “Who is gone into heaven.” That is a plain, unmistakable statement declaring to us as a fact that the resurrected Jesus Christ is now gone into heaven in His risen, glorified, human body. Where is Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary, crucified and risen on the third day? The answer of Scripture is: He is not to be found on earth in His body. He is gone up into heaven. For forty days after He arose He showed Himself alive, appearing to His disciples in private and in public – by twos and threes and even to five hundred at one time – thereby showing the fact that He was indeed risen. Then, having comforted His disciples, wiping away the tears that they shed at His death and preparing them for their task upon earth, Jesus was taken up to heaven. Heaven – that realm, that region beyond our senses where God dwells in all of His infinite glory. Just as in the Old Testament the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place and could not be seen after he had parted the veil and gone into that Most Holy Place, so our Lord Jesus Christ has now parted the veil. He has gone beyond where we can see. He has entered into heaven itself, the dwelling place of God, to appear before the throne of the Almighty, as the representative of each and every one of those whom the Father had given to Him, and had brought to faith and repentance in Him.
Perhaps those three words, nevertheless, make a doleful sound – “Who is gone.” Without the next two, “into heaven,” they would indeed sound doleful. It sounds sad. It sounds mournful. He is gone. The well beloved, our teacher, Lord, Good Shepherd, Lover of our souls, whom Peter calls in the second chapter the Bishop of our souls, is gone. If that is all that we had today, and if that is all that we had as we remember His ascension, we would gather as those who are bereaved. Then forty days after the resurrection we could, perhaps, best raise a monument to a lost and missing Savior. But finish the phrase: “Who is gone into heaven.” And, further, Hebrews tells us these blessed words: “Who is gone into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us.” He is gone into that place of perfect and complete victory. He has returned as a victor to His Father’s right hand. He has come to that place of spotless purity and only holiness. And He has come there as our head and representative, thereby telling us that through Him we appear before God spotless and righteous. That is the first phrase: Who is gone into heaven – that is, our Lord Jesus Christ, the representative of all those given to Him of the Father, is now, in His body, in the very presence of God for us.
Then Peter goes on to make a second statement: And is on the right hand of God. Of others it may be said that they are gone into heaven. Of two it could be said that their bodies were translated into heaven. Enoch and Elijah, you remember, went into heaven in their bodies. But of no one except our Lord Jesus Christ can it be said, “And is on the right hand of God.” This is the place reserved for the Son of God, for our ascended Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, remember, this relates to Him as the risen Lord, as the Man Jesus Christ, God’s Son in our human flesh. In His glorified manhood He is at the right hand of God. Think of that. Infinite distance exists between God and the created. Even the holy angels cover their faces before the being of God. But the Being next to God, near to Him, is the Man Christ Jesus – our Lord and Savior. What mercy and grace and honor and glory is this that we belong to this Son of God who is at the right hand of God. Let us, therefore, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 4, draw near, let us come before Him with boldness and confidence, knowing that we shall find grace to help in time of need.
Christ is at the right hand of God. What does that mean? It means unrivaled honor. To sit at God’s right hand is the highest conceivable glory. Not the head table at a banquet, but at the right hand of the throne of the majesty on high, so that the psalmist may say, Thou hast highly exalted Him and honored Him in glory.
It means, secondly, intense love. He is beloved of the Father. The Father loves Him with an unutterable and inconceivable love. It means, further, communion and counsel. God there confers with His Son. Between them is sweet counsel taken. And it means perfect repose. He sits at the right hand of God. His work is done. He is the restful Savior. He has taken His seat at the right hand of God, henceforth expecting that His enemies shall be made His footstool. The work of salvation is completely accomplished. Nothing further needs to be done. He sits at the right hand of God. His entire mission to redeem our souls is fully accomplished. That is what it means that He sits at the right hand of God.
Still more. It means dominion. For the third statement that Peter makes is this: Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him. He has been given absolute authority from God.
That was foretold. In Psalm 72:8 it was told of Him: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” And again in verse 11 of that Psalm: “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” And His enemies shall lick the dust. He is made Lord of all. The Man Jesus Christ not only sits among the host of heaven, but He sits at the right hand of Jehovah, meaning that He exercises unrivaled authority, absolute control, omnipotent decree over all things: angels, authorities, and powers being made subject unto Him.
Angels. Those are heavenly creatures, created to glorify God and to minister unto us who are the heirs of salvation. There is a heavenly host, thousands upon thousands of angels in all of their divisions and principalities, their orders. All of them now count it their joy to do His bidding.
Authorities and powers are made subject to Him. Those given the right and power to rule among men – these, too, are subject to Christ. This is the word of God: governments and all the power of men and all the power of the creation are subjected unto Jesus Christ. He controls all things in the absolute sense. He controls all things in order that the purposes, the will, and the decisions of God are fully accomplished. He controls all things in such a way that they are now being led by His hand to that glorious day when He shall return upon the clouds of glory, when all of His church shall be gathered about Him. Then it shall be perfected. The world will be judged and the final kingdom and glory of the Father will be ushered in. That must certainly happen. It must happen because our Lord Jesus Christ is now ascended, at the right hand of God, given all authority. Christ rules. Men do not make Him ruler. He rules. And this blessed rule He exercises also by grace in the hearts of His children, conquering their hearts, knocking down the rebellious door of their hearts and enthroning Himself in their hearts so that now they bow before Him and love and adore Him and desire to serve and worship Him all of their days.
Rejoice, people of God. Break into singing: great is the Lord in the midst of us. This is our comfort and encouragement. The One who died for us, the One who is risen with eternal life is now at the right hand of God, thereby declaring to us that we are righteous, thereby declaring that His work of salvation is accomplished, thereby declaring that all things are in the hands of our Savior, our Great Shepherd. Therefore, all things are working together for our good unto that day when we shall see Him in eternal glory and we shall be perfectly satisfied in His likeness.
It we believe this Scripture (and this Scripture is absolutely true), then there are three simple lessons.
One. The cause of Jesus Christ and of the church on earth is safe. His church, His people, and you who by His grace own Him as your Lord, are kept by the power of the ascended and enthroned Christ Jesus. Let not the church tremble. Let not the church, committed to His word and committed to His truth, tremble no matter how small that church may appear and no matter how ridiculed it may be before the world. Let not our hearts melt with fear. Let us not think that we must put out our hand and steady the ark of God. Rather, let the church on earth trust, obey, and be faithful. We are in the service of the enthroned Christ.
That is also true of each saint. Where does your hope exist? Brother, sister in the Lord Jesus Christ, is your trust and hope in Christ? Then it is safe, is it not? If you have any hope or trust outside of Him, it will perish and it will show itself vain before you. But now, trusting by the grace of God in the enthroned Christ – though you may be tired and cry out, “Oh, I feel as if I am forsaken” – yet you shall triumph. For you belong to Him.
The second lesson: We are now pilgrims and strangers on the earth. Why? Because He is not here. Spiritually we are made pilgrims and strangers. Our Lord is in heaven. This world could not have Him. So now we who are in this world cannot call it our home. If He were here in His body, we perhaps would think that this world could be for us an abiding place, a place where we could sink down even everlasting roots. But it is not so. Our inheritance is on the other side of the Jordan, on the other side of death. And this world and all that it has is not to endure. It shall be burned up and destroyed. He ascends, and as He ascends He says to us His children, “Upward is all of your hope.” He says, “This world in which you live, in which you are called to serve Me, this world is not your resting place.” But you must prepare yourself for that moment when it shall be said of you, “He (she) is gone up into heaven to be with Christ.”
United to Him, right now, we are apprehended for that place of glory where He is. Separated from Him now in the body, we cannot find rest here on the earth. But we desire to be with Him, to behold Him in His glory, and to swell with Him there forever. He is gone into haven. Those words mean that you are now a stranger and a pilgrim. You shall not find rest here. Our hope is above.
Therefore, the third lesson is simply this: We are to live in hope, looking upwards unto Him.
Are you drawn and are you pulled by that hope? Do you feel its tug upon your soul? What is tugging on your soul? To what are you drawn? To what are you attracted? Is it money? Is it the things that money can buy – homes, cars? It is honor? Is it beauty? Is it applause? Is it the pleasures of this present world and the pleasures of sin and doing your own thing and being as bad as you want to be? Is that what grabs at your heart? Is that your desire? What are you living for? Why do you get up in the morning?
Now the Word of God says this: If what you are living for, and if what is pulling on your heart is the earthly, if that is the center of your desire, you will perish with it. But by grace we confess, My hope, my desire, and what (no, who) I am living for is at God’s right hand. Then you find within your heart that you are drawn after Him. At times that becomes very strong and you long to be with Him where He is in all of His peace and rest and glory. Then you will live now with your eye upward upon the ascended Lord. You will live in the confidence of faith that He has conquered all for you and, belonging to Him, you are more than conquerors through Him who hath loved you.
What, then, does it matter if now it is the will of God that He leads you in heaviness of trial? He may bring upon you great sickness, loneliness, depression, heartaches, difficulties. But yet, no matter what, He has conquered. And we belong to the ascended and now enthroned Christ Jesus. Even if all the arrows of Satan are thick about us, and even if we are persecuted for His truth’s sake, nevertheless, we may lay hold of the victory that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has ascended. All power and dominion are His forever and ever.
An now there is laid up for us a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Believe these words of Christ. Believe the holy Scriptures. Christ is gone up into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him. Therefore, belonging to Him, I have all things.
Believest thou this?
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the holy Word of God. May that Word work in us this perfect hope that at all times we live our life with an eye of faith upward to Thee for our strength and all of our direction. In Jesus’ name, Amen.