Ques. 46. How dost thou understand these words, “He ascended into heaven”?
Ans. That Christ, in sight of His disciples, was taken up from earth into heaven; and that He continues there for our interest, until He comes again to judge the quick and the dead.
Ques. 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?
Ans. First, that He is our advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven; secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, as the Head, will also take up to Himself, us, His members; thirdly, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we “seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not things on earth.”
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 19.*
This is Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, 1982.
By the providence of our God our calendar dates back to the time of Jesus’ birth. That was the breaking of the dawn, heralding a new day, the beginning of the new dispensation.
Events followed rapidly one upon another after the birth of the Savior. He was born in abject poverty in Bethlehem, dwelled and labored among us for some thirty years, and ended His earthly ministry with His atoning death on the cross. Thereupon our Lord arose from the dead and ascended to heaven. After His resurrection He had tarried only long enough to reveal to us in His resurrection body the wonder of His victory over death. Nine times He appeared to His disciples, showing them new aspects of His resurrection body, only to disappear from sight as suddenly as He had appeared to them.
The last appearance was the most wonderful of all. Jesus met the eleven, likely in Jerusalem, and led them to the mount of Olives, conversing with them along the way. There on the mount, after answering a few more questions, Jesus extended His hands over them as evidence of His continued blessing upon them. As He blessed them He began to ascend before their wondering gaze. At that moment a cloud appeared, which enveloped Him, so that they saw Him no more.
Scripture describes this event by saying that a “cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). As children we were disappointed that this cloud “just happened” to be there at that time, preventing the disciples from following their Lord’s ascent until He faded away as a dim speck in the azure blue. Now we know better. We understand that this cloud was a part of the wonder of the ascension. God brought that cloud at that moment, a small distance above the heads of the disciples, that they might see Jesus enter into the cloud. This was not an ordinary cloud lazily drifting through the skies, but it was a cloud of glory that symbolized heaven itself. It was like the cloud that led Israel through the Red Sea and went before them in the desert until they reached the promised land. It was like the cloud that hovered over the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place, symbolizing God’s presence among His people. A similar cloud appeared on the mount of transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus and a voice from the cloud spoke to the disciples. Here on the mount of the ascension God causes this cloud of glory to appear and to envelop Jesus as a sign of His entering into heaven. This is the interpretation of the angels who stood with the disciples and said, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him gointo heaven” (Acts 1:11).
The Old Testament stresses the importance of this event as well as the New. I think of Psalm 8, Psalm 24:7-10,Psalm 45:7, Psalm 68:18, and especially Psalm 110. It is never difficult to find Psalter numbers for the Ascension Day services. What always impresses us is the description of this momentous event in Daniel 7:13, 14, where the triumphant Savior is described as making His march of triumph accompanied by the entire angel host through the heavens to be presented before the throne of the Eternal God, where He receives power and dominion over all the works of God’s hands. The ascension of Christ not only concludes His earthly ministry, but is the occasion for His coronation in heaven. It brings the clock of history to the eleventh hour. It introduces the “millennium” of Revelation 20. It brings about the Day of the Lord, the end of the ages, the last hour. The next great event that still awaits us is the return of our Lord with the same kind of cloud.
In harmony with its experiential approach, our Catechism emphasizes the advantage of Christ’s ascension for us. We are reminded that Christ is now our Advocate before the Father. Moreover, He has taken our flesh into heaven as a pledge that we will be united with Him in glory. And, finally, we are reminded that He sends His Spirit as an Earnest in our hearts, drawing us unto Him, so that we seek the things above.
Our Advocate stands before the Father.
The apostle John writes, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not, and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1, 2). We are reminded how sorely we need one who represents us before the throne of grace, not with an occasional plea on our behalf, but as one who stands in Gods presence interceding for us night ‘and day. We are wretched, miserable sinners, who bring upon ourselves God’s holy wrath every moment. Even our best works are sinful. Our prayers are for the most part an abomination in God’s ears. We deserve only to be banished from His presence into everlasting condemnation. Our Advocate must be, can be no other than Jesus Christ, the Righteous, Who died for us and lives to intercede for us.
This means, first of all, that God no longer sees us as we are in ourselves, but sees us in Christ, clothed from head to foot in the righteousness of the Lamb for sinners slain. He regards us as sons and daughters, heirs of salvation, worthy of eternal covenant fellowship with Him.
Besides that, Christ intercedes for us. He prays that we may be taken up with Him to share His glory before the throne of God forever (John 17:24). Included in that main prayer are many individual petitions for material and spiritual blessings according to our personal needs. Christ prays for and receives the Spirit to dwell in us. By His Spirit Christ bestows upon us the gifts of grace whereby we are made ready to appear without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal. Meanwhile He holds us by His hand, guides us daily by His counsel, and afterward takes us into His glory. Christ does still more. He arouses us by His Spirit to worship in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, before the face of the Father. He takes all of our prayers and presents them before the throne of grace. Even though we pray in Christ’s Name more out of force of habit than in real need, our Lord takes this very seriously, so that no prayer arises from our lips which is not purified from all its imperfections and presented before the face of God with the plea that God hear us purely on the basis of His meritorious work of the cross. It is for Christ’s sake, and for His sake alone, that God answers our prayers in a way far above our fondest imagination.
Our Flesh in Heaven.
The benefits of Christ’s ascension seem to have no end. Our Catechism adds, “We have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, as the Head, will also take to Himself, us, His members.”
Christ is our Head, we are the members of His body. Upon that fact our fathers lay the emphasis here. As our Head Christ merited the right to enter heaven. As our Head He brought our flesh into heaven. When we with our first parents were banished from paradise we were cast out from the presence of God. Christ had to merit the right for us to be brought back into God’s fellowship and favor. Thus when our Savior had finished His atoning work of the cross the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, signifying that Christ had opened the way into heavenly fellowship with God for us!
As our Head Christ did even more than that. The Son of God came into the weakness of our flesh, tabernacled among us, died, and was raised in our flesh, transforming it into a resurrection body that was fit for heaven. The presence of Christ in heaven today is our guarantee that we will be where He is in a resurrection body.
How could we ever express it more beautifully and more emphatically than Paul expresses it in Ephesians 2:4-6? We marvel at each word as we read, “But God, Who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loves us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus“! Already we sit with Christ at the right hand of God, possessing in Him and with Him all power in heaven and on earth. What stronger proof could we have that “though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26)?
We share in the blessings of Christ’s ascension even now. Our Book of Instruction reminds us that Christ “sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by Whose power we ‘seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not the things on earth.’ ”
God provides us with a double guarantee of all the riches of our eternal salvation. He places Christ in heaven, and He sends the Spirit of Christ into our hearts. Through His Spirit Christ fulfills His promise to us, “I will not leave you comfortless (as orphans); I will come to you.” Christ came to dwell in us on Pentecost. Now we gratefully confess with the apostle Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
The Spirit of Christ is an Earnest, an advance on the full salvation that awaits us in heaven. He dwells in us to abide in us forever. He quickens us with the life of Christ. He transforms us from children of Satan to sons and daughters of the living God, restored in His likeness. We are united to Christ by the bond of living faith. By the power of that faith we experience sorrow for sin, repentance, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, preservation, joy, peace, yes, all the riches of grace in Christ Jesus.
We are aliens in this present world, with our citizenship in heaven. We are strangers on the earth, wending our pilgrimage to the city that has foundations, our Home in heaven.
Oh, to be there, where we shall never more sin, where sorrow and death are unknown, where all tears are washed away!
Ah, to be with Christ is a joy unspeakable that is full of glory! To behold His face in righteousness and to be able to devote our soul and body every moment of endless life to the praise of the glory of our God!
That will be glory, glory for me!
* For the entire Lord’s Day see your Psalter or Hymn Book.