Is Jesus' Ascension the Most Important Part of His Ministry?
Today, Thursday May 26th, marks the day when the Church celebrates Jesus' ascension into heaven, 10 days before His sending the Spirit at Pentecost. It always falls on a Thursday so can easily be missed or seen as less significant than those other significant events such as Christmas and Easter. But in some ways, this event might be interpreted the most important...
Some of this is due to the way we have interpreted verses in the prophet Daniel and how this has been applied in the New Testament. "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)
In taking up the title ‘Son of Man’, Jesus is claiming to fulfill the destiny of Israel—to take on their oppression, but also to experience their vindication from God. It is not the empires of this world that are the true oppressors of Israel, but the powers of darkness and their own sin and disobedience. Thus when John the Baptist "goes before the Lord to prepare his way" it is through "the forgiveness of all their sins" (Luke 1:77).
The phrase "coming with the clouds of heaven" is associated not with anyone’s coming from heaven to earth, but rather the opposite—the exultation of the Son of Man as he comes from the earth to the one seated on the heavenly throne. This is the opposite of Paul’s language when he says, "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thess 4:17).
This doesn't refer to Jesus’ return to earth but is an almost exact quotation from Daniel 7, and refers to Jesus’ ascending to the throne of God, fulfilling the destiny of Israel. That is why the High Priest considered it blasphemy and Jesus was crucified because he anticipated his Ascension!
So what does the Ascension mean?
Authority. Jesus is enthroned with the Father. It is because of the Ascension that the lamb who was slain is seated with the one on the throne and shares his worship (Revelation 4). It is in the Ascension that all authority has been given to Jesus.
Humanity. In the incarnation, God entered into human existence. In the Ascension, that humanity is taken up into the presence of God. We have a High Priest interceding for us who is not unable to sympathize with our challenges, dilemmas, suffering and weaknesses.
Responsibility. The Ascension marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry; he has now given us responsibility to continue this work, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not distant or indifferent, but he has delegated.
Faithfulness. Jesus ascending in the clouds to heaven promised that he will return "in the same way". His return is never called the ‘second coming’ in the New Testament, because it is not paired with his ‘first coming’ (the Incarnation) but with the Ascension. As God has put all things under his feet, one day his authority will be fully expressed with the removal of all that resists or rebels against Him.
The amazing truth is that in the mean time, the Kingdom is here, within us even though we inhabit a physical body and live in a physical world not yet fully submitted ... but we can be! Even more, through our obedience to Him, we can become transforming agents in this world through the way we live - forgiving people, healing people, loving people and ministering truth that truly liberates!
Please join us as we gather to declare Jesus is Lord in prayer, worship, and listening together each evening at 6pm starting today, May 26th, and for the next 10 days. So, I encourage you to make this a priority and part of your devotion to the Lord and to our community life? Some of you may also wish to join me in fasting in some way during this time.
With much love,