May 29 marks Ascension Day, the day the Christian church traditionally celebrates Jesus’ being taken up into heaven.
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:9
For some reason, the modern evangelical church utterly ignores this event.
Based on my reading of the New Testament, this is a far more important moment than, say, Christmas, which the church celebrates with unrelenting ardor every year. Why is the Ascension important?
1. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ reign in the heavenly realms. As such, it signifies the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom. Philippians tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth,” meaning that some of those knees are bowing only with great reluctance. In the parable, the Ascension signifies the precise moment when the reluctant subjects are subjugated:
But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home. Luke 19:14-15
Many of the hymns that we sing on Palm Sunday and Easter are really Ascension hymns:
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne!
Hark, how the heav’nly anthem drowns all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity!
Because of the regime change, the great cosmic coup, we who are Jesus’ followers have nothing to fear. The Ascension is therefore of immense practical importance for the practicing Christian of any denomination. It means that spiritual victory is possible, and even to be expected. Satan has no claim on us, or on anything in this world. As believers we are not reclaiming territory from the devil, as some like to say; no, we are simply forcing him out of territory he no longer owns. It means that we have the authority, by the name of Jesus and his power dwelling in us, by faith, to command the evil spirits, who must submit (reluctantly) to that name. That is why, incidentally, it is always important to speak the name of Jesus, particularly in prayer. The wimp-out formula “in your name, amen” is not to be trusted. The Ascension means walking in spiritual power, spiritual authority, spiritual victory. This is something that ought to be our everyday experience. It should be the Normal Christian Life!
2. It marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. The “new way of the Spirit” alluded to by Paul in Romans 7:6 began with the Ascension. Jesus promised it in this way:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
Astute Bible students will recall that, just as Jesus indicated, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) immediately followed the Ascension. Acts chapter two is impossible without Acts chapter one. As Paul wrote (citing the 68th Psalm):
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Christ’s Ascension makes possible not just the miraculous utterances of Pentecost, but the whole panoply of gifts that come to us as believers via the Holy Spirit. I repeat: the Ascension is of immense practical importance to the practicing Christian of any denomination. The giving of the Holy Spirit is literally the birth of the Church. The Ascension means that all of our needs have been supplied. It means that we lack no spiritual gift (remembering that this promise to the Corinthians refers to the church body, not to each individual believer in Corinth).
Let us celebrate the Ascension. Let us feast! I would gladly trade Christmas for it.