God, Still With Us

Does the ascension of Christ mean that He is no longer with us?

I will use your question to share a few thoughts about the significance of the ascension of Christ. The return of Jesus to the Father is an important chapter in the history of the cosmic conflict between good and evil, and it deserves much more attention than it usually receives.

1. Ascension and Incarnation: At His ascension the incarnate Son of God did not abandon His human nature. The disciples saw Jesus taken to heaven (Acts 1:9-11), and even there He still is “the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). It was not a disembodied mind that went up to heaven, totally divested of the materiality that defines humanity. Jesus took with Him His human body because it is an inseparable component of His human nature. In fact, Jesus’ bodily resurrection testifies to His bodily ascension. His ascension did not mean the end of His incarnation.

2. Ascension and Absence: It is impossible to speak about the ascension of Christ without affirming His absence. He left His disciples behind: “I will be with you only a little longer,” He told them (John 13:33, NIV). Any attempt to locate Jesus among us here on earth distorts the biblical teaching of His ascension. This is particularly the case with respect to the teaching of the real presence of Christ in the bread of the Eucharist. He ascended, and no one can bring Him down to earth. Yet Christ is present among us in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus was going away, He promised to send His disciples “another Helper” (John 14:16). He went so far as to tell them that although absent, He would come to them through the Spirit (verse 18). Absence does not mean abandonment.

3. Ascension and Exaltation: Christ’s ascension led to the exaltation of the Son of God. This was the moment when He “was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16, NIV). Since this is the glory that was His “before the world began” (John 17:5, NIV), the ascension affirms the preexistence of the Son of God. He who descended also ascended (John 3:13; 6:38). The incarnate God now sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33) “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9). He rules with the Father from the cosmic throne of God. He has “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18; cf. Phil. 2:9-11). The  ascension proclaims Christ’s cosmic victory.

4. Ascension and Space: The ascension means that Christ’s work on behalf of the human race was not finished. Otherwise, He would have established His kingdom on earth after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:6). Where did He go? He ascended to be our high priest in the heavenly temple (Heb. 6:20; 8:1, 2). The ascension tells us that Christ left one space/place—our world—to go into another—the heavenly temple, to minister on behalf of His people. These two places are deeply connected in that what takes place in heaven impacts God’s people on earth. There is no disconnect between what happens in His space and what happens in ours. The Lord still cares for our planet.

5. Ascension and Time: His ascension did not take Christ into a timeless realm disconnected from ours. It was a historical event that intersected earthly and heavenly realms of existence. Christ’s enthronement marked the moment when the Spirit was poured out on His church (Acts 2:33). These two different events, in different places, occurred at the same time. Prophetic time points to this time connection. Events in heaven and earth occur at the proper time as indicated by the prophecy (e.g., Gal. 4:4). For instance, the beginning of Christ’s work of judgment in the heavenly temple is connected to our time through the 2300-year prophecy (Dan. 8:14). What Christ is doing before the Father is related to the history of His people. While He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), we are here on earth fulfilling the mission of the church (Acts 1:7, 8). When His high-priestly ministry closes in heaven, the mission of the church closes on earth. Then the absent Christ will come back in glory. His ascension anticipates a moment of permanent reunion.

Date: 
8/15