Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Having considered the fact of the ascension and what actually took place in that event — insofar as we are able to understand it by what Scripture reveals — we now focus our attention on the benefits of that ascension for us.
Christ’s ascension was profitable in three ways, each of which is set forth by our Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 49.
The first benefit of Christ’s ascension is that Jesus is now “our advocate in the presence of his father in heaven.”
The term advocate appears in the Bible in I John 2:1.
The apostle had revealed the holiness of God, who is light and in whom is no darkness at all. He made clear that fellowship with Him is found only through Christ’s blood, and in the single way of walking in the light as He is in the light. If we walk in the light, we don’t deny our sin, for then we only deceive ourselves. But we confess our sins and turn from them to lay hold on God’s faithfulness and justice, according to which He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
And so John writes, as he begins his second chapter: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” These truths are set before us that, hearing the Word, we might walk in the light and fight against sin, showing ourselves to be the children of God.
However, aware of the fact that we have a continual battle to fight, involving our old nature and the sin which cleaves to us and even the best of our works, the apostlecontinues: “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
An advocate is one who defends us.
We are those who stand constantly before the Righteous Judge. But with us stands our advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the One who died for us, who obtained for us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness. In Him we have also been delivered from the power and dominion of sin, and by His work in us we also walk in the light and long to be completely delivered from all corruption. But at the same time we find in ourselves sins that rise up against us, even sins that remain in us, any of which would make us damnable before God and would deprive us of all opportunity for His fellowship—except for this one thing: We have an advocate.
As our advocate, our Lord Christ pleads for us before the Father and defends us. He doesn’t defend our sin. Far be it from Him to condone our sin! He is the Righteous One, after all! But He defends us from the just judgment of God.
He does that, however, by presenting Himself before the Father as our defense. On the basis of His own work of atonement, He appeals to the faithfulness and justice of God, and pleads on our behalf for the sentence of innocent and righteous.
What a tremendous blessing that is!
The exalted Christ is our advocate in a very special sense of the word. He is so as our High Priest. That is the significance of what we read in Hebrews 4:14-16. He is our advocate as the One who made the sacrifice once and forever for all who are His. He stood in our place, experienced our way of struggle and temptation. He took upon Himself our guilt and all our iniquities. And standing before the Father in perfect love, He paid the price, the only price, that we might be redeemed and declared righteous.
As One who has walked our path, He is our advocate who also makes intercession on our behalf. His plea is not occasional, but constant for us. And because of who He is and what He has accomplished, that plea is always granted by the Father. The Father, hearing the plea of His Son, looks upon His people in the light of Christ’s righteousness with an eye of everlasting love and mercy. So we read: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Only in the consciousness of this work of Christ do we approach God through Him and obtain the assurance of our perfect righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins. That is the first way in which we find Christ’s ascension profitable, exceedingly profitable, for us.
Our Sure Pledge
The second way in which the ascension is profitable for us is found in the truth that the ascended Christ provides for us a sure pledge that He, as our Head, will also take us His members up to Himself.
The last two verses of Hebrews 6 teach us this blessed truth.
Hebrews 6 speaks to the reality of our own experience, which seems as if the Lord is slow concerning the realization of His promises.
We are told to be followers of those who obtained the promises by patience, in full assurance of hope. That hope is certain. It cannot fail.
Our hope is certain by two unchangeable things.
In the first place, that hope is sure because it is rooted in the counsel of God, which is eternal and unchangeable.
In the second place, our hope is sure because God has sworn an unchangeable oath to realize His promise. He did that for our sakes.
But the writer to the Hebrews points at that certainty of our hope and tells us that our hope, or really the object of our hope, has now become the anchor of our soul.
See the picture here. Our hope in Christ and in the fulfillment of the promise is an anchor, the cable of which is fastened to our soul, and which reaches into the innermost sanctuary of God, striking into the ground and securely stabilizing our soul. But that is true for one reason. Our hope has become an anchor, entering the very bosom of God, as it were, because our forerunner has entered into that sanctuary for us. That is the reason!
Because Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and has entered the very sanctuary of God, our hope is anchored, solidly fastened, immovably fastened, upon the Rock of our salvation. Because Christ has entered the sanctuary, the object of our hope has been realized, and it has become an anchor to which our soul is bound.
That hope consists of a sure expectation. That expectation is heaven!
Heaven is the place “within the veil.” The picture is that of the fulfillment of the temple. The place within the veil is the holy of holies. The idea of the holy of holies was that it is the place where God dwells. In other words, it was a picture of heaven. That is what heaven is. Not as if heaven can contain God, any more than the holy of holies in the temple could contain God. The heaven of heavens cannot contain God. But heaven is God’s dwelling in the sense that there the creature, there we, dwell with God in Jesus Christ.
In heaven we shall see His face in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In heaven we shall have fellowship with Him in a way that we experience now only in a very, very faint measure.
In heaven we shall live with Him.
Heaven is a home, therefore. That home is the object of the Christian’s hope. God has given us the promise in Christ Jesus that we shall dwell with Him some day in His house of many mansions. The wonder of the ascension is that Jesus has opened the door for us to that home. He is our forerunner. That is certain. And we have that hope as an anchor of the soul.
The Bestowal of the Spirit
Closely related to that benefit of Christ’s ascension is the third benefit, as our Catechism puts it, “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 the things on earth.”
Christ has sent us His Spirit as an earnest. For that reason we live in hope.
An earnest is a promise or assurance of something to come. He sent us His Spirit as an earnest of our final salvation.
The ascended Lord received that Spirit, in order that through Him He might bestow all the blessings of salvation according to His promise. For you remember how Christ said to His people, as recorded in John’s gospel account, chapters 14-16, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).
Our contact with the ascended Lord is by the Word, but through the Spirit.
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26).
And again in John 16:12-14, Jesus said to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
All who are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ partake of Christ’s life as the ascended and exalted Lord of glory. His life is the resurrection life! It is the life of heaven.
In union with Him by faith we are at this very moment citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
But that heavenly life in us also brings us into a continuous tension in this world. It is a tension within ourselves, first of all.
On the one hand, we, being earthly creatures and sinful besides, are attached to the earth. We are strongly attached to the earth, from many different perspectives. Our sinful nature compounds the attachment.
But on the other hand, there is the Spirit of our heavenly Christ dwelling in us, drawing us unto Him, and making us partakers of His heavenly life. That also is ours, when we are His. So that we long to be with Him, to have closer fellowship with Him. And so the presence of Christ in heaven is an earnest to us that there awaits for us heavenly glory.
And by the power of that indwelling Spirit, we seek the things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.
Do you find that in your own life? Do you confess that you are a pilgrim and stranger in the earth, whose home is in heaven? Do you declare plainly that you seek a country, whose Builder and Maker is God?
By the power of the Spirit of Christ, this is the life of the Christian. While yet present in this body, we are absent from the Lord. And absent from Him, we long to be closer to Him. That explains why we pray as we do, with all the saints, “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.”