Written by Luke the physician, the book of Acts is in many ways the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. In his Gospel, Luke deals with “all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up” (Acts 1:1-2). In Acts, Luke deals with what the ascended Christ continued to do and teach through his apostles and by his Spirit. Thus, the book of Acts teaches us how Christ continues, even today, to build his Church such that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Through the Apostle’s Creed, the Church confesses that Christ “ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” In so doing, we confess one of the cardinal doctrines of the faith, namely the historic event of the bodily ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in Acts 1:6-11. Let us briefly consider the meaning of Christ’s ascension.
First, Christ’s ascension means that Christ is reigning. The bodily ascension of Christ signals Christ’s exaltation, glorification and sovereign rule. The Christ who was despised and rejected by men; the Christ who was mocked, spat upon, and beaten beyond recognition; the Christ who was crucified between two thieves and assigned a grave with the wicked – this Christ, God has highly exalted. The devil could not destroy him; death could not defeat him; the tomb could not contain him. In the words of James S. Stewart, “When death took on Jesus of Nazareth it took on too much.” The ascension triumphantly communicates that Jesus is Lord, that He is the living, reigning Son of God.
Secondly, Christ’s ascension means that Christ is renewing. In fulfillment of his promises and in answer to the prayers of His waiting Church, the ascended Christ renewed his disciples by pouring out his Spirit upon them at Pentecost (see Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-13; John 16:7-15). Like Peter, James and John, we need the filling of Christ’s renewing, equipping, and sanctifying Spirit for a life of discipleship and service. Jesus graciously promises his Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13). The ascended Christ is reigning, and he is renewing his Church by his Word and Spirit as we look to him in faith.
Finally, Christ’s ascension means that Christ is restoring. Christ came into the world to restore sinners from every nation to God (see Acts 1:6-8; Revelation 7:9-10). Christ’s bodily ascension to the Father’s right hand as the God-Man makes this restoration possible, for as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Christ’s ongoing humanity at the Father’s right hand makes sinners’ restoration to God possible. In the words of Hebrews 7:25, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who draw near to God through him, for he always lives to make intercession for them.”
How do we experience the grace and eternal life of the ascended Christ who reigns, renews and restores? As Dr. Gerrit Dawson puts it in his excellent book Jesus Ascended, “When we bend the knee of the heart to Christ, we ascend to heaven with and in Christ.”
Mantle Nance is the pastor of the Newberry Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (newberryarp.org). He holds a bachelor of arts degree in religion from Furman University and a Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a Ph.D candidate in theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He lives in Newberry with his wife and two sons.