20. Ascended?

Part 3: Ascended & Ruling:   3A. Theory

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 20. Ascended?

Eph 2:6,7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Third Phase: We are, you may remember, basing our studies on the idea that when Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) there were three applications or phases of his life that correspond to that: first, lifted up on the Cross, his death, then second, lifted up in the resurrection, empowered by God, and now lifted up into heaven, his ascension.  We will take this third Part in two sections, first the theory surrounding the two verses above, and then the practice, how it works out. But first, let’s lay down a basic foundation of understanding from the Bible in respect of his ascension.

The Fact of the Ascension:  In Acts 1:9-11 we see Jesus ascending, leaving the earth and leaving his disciples to continue his work after they have been filled with his Holy Spirit. In ascending in the manner he did, we see him sending the message, I am no longer here on earth, don’t go looking for me. It is also a message, I am ascending to heaven to my place beside my Father. There are in the New Testament 13 mentions of this: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 /   Phil 2:9 / Col 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22

His place in Heaven:  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven: He has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand, and is there as Prince and Saviour, and he pleads for us there, has been given a name above all others, and all angels and authorities bow before him. It is important to understand these things.

Jesus Ruling in Heaven:  Prophetically Psa 110:1,2 indicates there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them. Eph 1:19-23 show Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet and he is head over everything for the sake of the church.  1 Cor 15:24-26 again shows the process of dealing with his enemies and he reigns in the midst of his enemies. 1 Thess 4:16,17 says we will eventually join him there, while our verses above, Eph 2:6,7 declare we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his Spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness.

Us in Heavenly Places? There is a most remarkable truth here apart from the wonder of Jesus ascending and ruling at his Father’s right hand – that we are linked to Jesus by His Spirit and thus in a measure at least, are joined to him to participate in the process of his rule from heaven.

Ruling in a Fallen World: Now many Christians, with limited understanding, question the practical reality of these truth when they focus their attention on the terrible things that go on in the world. There is still slavery in the world, they say, there are still ungodly nations who oppress their people, persecute and kill Christians, there is still injustice, and so on. How can you say Jesus is ruling? Ah, be careful, the Scriptures say Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies; he exercises his rule while the ungodly are still doing their thing.

Free Will Reigns: Having given us free will, God will not overrule it and so He has to allow the world to be ungodly if that is what they want. That doesn’t stop Him acting into the affairs of the world in a variety of ways, and we shall try and pick these up as we go along. This is why it is so important that we keep close to Jesus and listen to him and not jump to our own conclusions in the chaos and apparent confusion that is often there in the affairs of men. One of the ways He works into the world is through His people, but even here He limits Himself to what we will do, our responses to Him. Thus, He may yearn to bring good changes to the world, but we may be slow to hear Him and respond, and thus He waits for us.

Little Faith? It is not His lack of desire, it’s more our slowness, even as the New Testament people of God, to respond to both what we read in His word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. There are various times in the Gospels where we see Jesus chiding his disciples for their ‘little faith’ (e.g. Mt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20). Now we may think these things are of little consequence but in reality, they may be the very things that prevent us growing and becoming the people God wants us to be.

Growth? And there we have just touched on the heart of these studies – things to be considered if we are to grow as the Lord wants us to grow. There is always a danger in the Christian life that we either become very passive or we limit our thinking about spirituality or spiritual things to certain parts of the week (Sundays?). Limiting our thinking in this way will definitely stunt our growth. We may achieve great things in the world, but in the kingdom of God we remain infants and if the writer to the Hebrews was our mentor he would be saying, “By now I would have expected…..” (Heb 5:12).

Personal Assessment: So, we might ask, how have we done so far? Have we taken on board and understood and applied all the teaching about having ‘died’?  Have we understood and taken on board the principles we have seen in the second Part in respect of the Spirit-empowered resurrection life? If we have not coped with these, it is unlikely we will handle the teaching about ‘the ascended life’ where our faith will be really challenged

Jesus’ Expectations: The passive Christian is happy to sit in the pews on a Sunday but that is where it stops. The real Christian is the one who hears Jesus words and does something with them: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:24) and “go and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) and “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) So there is the challenge for the days ahead. As we obey and move into these things, so we grow. Let’s rise to it!

51. The Mystery of the Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 51.  The Mystery of the Ascension

Acts 1:9     After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus has risen and goes with the disciples north to Galilee again. He had told them all of this previously (Mt 26:32), the women were told by an angel (Mt 28:7), Jesus reiterated it to the woman (28:10), and they all went (Mt 28:16), and John gives details of the encounter (Jn 21:1-24), and now Luke records it in Acts: He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) There he warns them he will leave them again but tells them of the power that will be theirs if they wait in Jerusalem. After forty days it appears they all return to Jerusalem and on the Mount of Olives this event occurs (Acts 1:12).

(Now I have written about this before and it so impacted me then that I am going to simply repeat much of what I wrote then.)

Our verse above is almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It is embarrassing in the way it baldly states something that none of us have ever seen or are likely to see in our lifetime – a man lifting up from the ground with no assistance and drifting up into a low passing cloud and disappearing.  Now we are given no warning in the text that this was about to happen. Luke, writing in Acts, doesn’t tell us that Jesus had warned them that this was going to happen. Earlier at the Last Supper he had referred to going to his Father, but they would now have assumed that that had been a reference to his death.

In the closing words of his Gospel, Luke had recorded, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51). Mark had recorded, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) (but there is a question mark over whether it actually was Mark writing those words or was something another had added.)  Matthew and John are silent as to what happened. But Luke is the historian who, in his Gospel, had told us that he had gone to great trouble to check out the truth of what had happened – so he records it.

The only other time in the Bible that anything like this happens was the case of Elijah being taken up – but that had been in a chariot of fire by angels, as he was carried up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). His young followers thought he would come down and went to search for him but found nothing. But this account, telling us of Jesus’ departure from the earth, seems almost ordinary by comparison. There is no whirlwind, no great sounds, nothing out of the ordinary recorded. Jesus simply ascended!

How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?  I suspect we would have stood there with open mouths and tears running down our faces as Jesus disappeared from sight. It was only the appearance of two angels that broke into their reverie and gave them something to rejoice about. They were just standing there, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” (v.10)  It was as if they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the spot where he had vanished from sight.

Now we have suggested that the historian, Luke, baldly recounts the facts of what happened but it is then fair to ask, but why did it happen in this way? Why didn’t Jesus just quietly vanish one day? It seems it is yet another of these mysteries surrounding the records of Jesus. However, there seem to be various clues.

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

A Door to the Next Stage: For the moment the disciples may be feeling devastated, utterly bereft at the loss – the final loss – of the One who has brought such light and love and hope to their lives, but it will be only a temporary sense of being bereft because, before a fortnight is out, things will be happening that will sweep them on into the excitement of the rest of their lives, but we’ll leave that for the next study. However, for the moment see his ascension as the next essential step in God’s agenda. He has to go so they will be on their own, waiting for his words to be fulfilled and for power to come.

A Pattern for his Return: Sometime in the future (see Rev 19) Jesus will return in power. He will not come in ordinary human form and so we need to remember his warnings about false Christs (Mt 24:44). People who simply talk the words are not him! When he comes every eye will see him (Rev 1:7). Even as he ascended, so he will descend – but in great power!

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Before we leave this study, we should note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand, and in subsequent studies we will see what he is doing there today. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

These are things into which we need to delve more deeply and we’ll consider more in the coming studies.

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

6. Ascended

Meditations in Acts : 6 :  Ascended

Acts 1:9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Life with Jesus was never boring. Forgive me if I refer again to the way we so often read God’s word. For those of us who have been Christians many years there is the temptation to let God’s word become ordinary; we lose the wonder of what is there.  My wife, who is a Religious Studies teacher, was marking some essays and read out to me the question, “Why do Christians read their Bibles?” I flippantly replied, “Because it seemed a good idea at the time.” Now I replied like that because my heart cried, “If only they would!” The point I would make is that so often Christians don’t read their Bibles because they have lost the sense of wonder of what is there in the book and are not wise enough to ask for God’s help every time they read it.

Today’s verse is almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It is embarrassing in the way it baldly states something that none of us have ever seen or are likely to see in our lifetime – a man lifting up from the ground with no assistance and drifting up into a low passing cloud and disappearing.  Now we are given no warning in the text that this was about to happen.  Luke doesn’t tell us that Jesus had warned them that this was going to happen.  Earlier at the Last Supper he had referred to going to his Father, but they would now have assumed that that had been a reference to his death.

In the closing words of his Gospel, Luke had recorded, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51). Mark had recorded, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) but there is a question mark over whether it actually was Mark writing those words. Matthew and John are silent as to what happened. But Luke is the historian who, in his Gospel, had told us that he had gone to great trouble to check out the truth of what had happened – so he records it.

The only other time in the Bible that anything like this happens was the case of Elijah being taken up – but that had been in a chariot of fire by angels, as he was carried up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). His young followers thought he would come down and went to search for him but found nothing.  But this account, telling us of Jesus departure from the earth, seems almost ordinary by comparison.  There is no whirlwind, no great sounds, nothing out of the ordinary recorded.  Jesus simply ascended!

How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?  I suspect we would have stood there with open mouths and tears running down our faces as Jesus disappeared from sight.  It was only the appearance of two angels that broke into their reverie and gave them something to rejoice about. They were just standing there, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” (v.10)  It was as if they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the spot where he had vanished from sight.

Now we have suggested that the historian, Luke, baldly recounts the facts of what happened but it is then fair to ask, but why did it happen in this way? Why didn’t Jesus just quietly vanish one day? There seem to be various clues.  Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

For the moment the disciples may be feeling devastated, utterly bereft at the loss – the final loss – of the One who has brought such light and love and hope to their lives, but it will be only a temporary sense of being bereft because, before a fortnight is out, things will be happening that will sweep them on into the excitement of the rest of their lives.

31. Captives & Gifts

Ephesians Meditations No.31

Eph  4:7-10 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

We have another link word to note – “but” which ties us in with what Paul had been saying earlier. See – Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph 3:20-4:1) Now back there at the end of the 3rd chapter Paul was speaking about the power God used to bring change within us, and then went on to challenge us to live accordingly, with that power. In verse 2 he called us to a life of humility, then in verse 3 to a life of unity and in verses 4 to 6 grounds why we should live in unity. So, now when we come to verse 7 he picks up again the idea of the work of Christ in us but now he refers to it as ‘grace’, which is the enabling of God by the power of His Spirit in us.

Note what he says about this grace: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. This grace has been given to every one of us who is now a Christian, and we have it because Christ in his role as ruler at the Father’s right hand has apportioned or handed it out to us. This is the same picture that Paul used when writing to the Romans: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). The gifts, Paul will go on to describe here, are the ministries he gives to us by supernatural enabling. Grace is supernatural enabling, enabling by the Spirit.

At that point Paul picks up on Old Testament scriptures to justify or explain why that is. In Psa 68 we find the following: “Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever? ….. the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious– that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.” (Psa 68:16-18).

The ‘mountain where God chooses to reign’ was clearly in that day Jerusalem, or more specifically the Temple in Jerusalem, “his sanctuary.” Now in that prophetic picture David, the psalmist, uses the language of a conquering king coming home from battle bringing captives to show off. That conquering king received gifts or tribute from those he conquered, those who had rebelled against him but who he had now conquered. Now Paul might have applied that specifically to us, seeing us as those who have surrendered to God after having been in rebellion against Him. That would have been a legitimate picture of what has in fact happened, and the gifts we brought would be our submission, our bowing down, our honouring Him, but that’s not what Paul says when he writes it.

Paul took certain rabbinic interpretations of his day and changed the word after ‘gifts’, so instead of ‘from’ it became ‘for‘ which apparently in some places it was legitimate to do. So instead of receiving from us, our God who is a giver, gives to us. We surrender to him and become his captives (or prisoners as Paul has been saying) but what does He do? He doesn’t put us in chains but in fact does exactly the opposite; He frees us and gives to us. He gifts us with His grace so that, we will see later, we find we have supernatural spiritual gifts that enable us to operate in particular roles of His choosing.

Before we finish we need to deal with Paul’s aside, within the brackets: “What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” This is Paul referring back to the Psa 68 quote, When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train;” The ‘ascended on high’ back then referred to God coming to Jerusalem and filling the Temple with His glory, ‘ascended’ over the ark. Paul is now applying that quote to Jesus and he contrasts ‘ascended’ and ‘descended’. Now at first sight the descended might appear to refer to Jesus coming down from heaven to earth, which is what some commentators say. But there is a problem with that. It is that the language of ‘lower earthly regions’ is more the Jewish language of the underworld rather than the earth itself. The ascended would probably refer to a) Jesus rising from the dead and then b) subsequently ascending back to heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. The ‘descended’ may possibly refer to Jesus coming to earth, but my own preference is that he descended to hell, first because ‘hell’ and the ‘lower earthly regions’ were similar in Jewish thought of that day and second, if hell is the ultimate punishment for sin, then if Jesus totally took our punishment for sin, then it would have to have included going down into hell.

His final words in this aside in verse 10 are: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Paul thus contrasts the wonder of Christ going down to the incredible wonder of him now ruling far about all else, which Paul referred to in chapter one when he spoke of God and “his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come, (1:20,21) an even more powerful description of Christ’s triumph and position now! Wow!