Scripture reports that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared several times in physical form to many people. Forty days later, the book of Acts tells that Jesus was again with his disciples:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power then the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6-11, ESV).
Last Friday I had the privilege to attend commencement ceremonies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. President R. Albert Mohler’s address to graduates was inspired by the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. His message was entitled, “As if It Had Been the Face of an Angel.” This title harkens to Acts 6:15: And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15, ESV).
Dr. Mohler pointed out that the original language indicates Stephen’s face had the same other-worldly glow as did Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence and receiving the Ten Commandments. Scripture gives even more explanation of Stephen’s angelic countenance: But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56, ESV).
Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven; Christ’s ascension. Jesus Christ did ascend to heaven – not as a non-corporeal spirit being, rather, in a new physical body given by God at his resurrection.
Why is this important? As Gerrit Scott Dawson writes, “Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature.” “If Jesus’ new life does not continue, then he could have died again…. The resurrection requires an ascension to be completed…. To put it bluntly, if Jesus did not go up as a man, he cannot come again as a man. The Judge would not be our Brother, not the one tempted in all ways as we are, not the man with the nail-scarred hands and the ‘rich wounds yet visible above.’ He might be God in that case, but he would not be human. And we would be lost.”
What God allowed Stephen to see gives a clear and true understanding of the role Christ now plays on our behalf.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:1-2, ESV).
Robert Webber put it this way, “Jesus Christ, this man who is God, participated in our humanity to die for us and to be resurrected for us, and he now has ascended to the very throne of God to continually represent us to the Father. For ‘he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’ (Hebrews 9:24, NIV). He who did everything that ever needed to be done to save us now continually stands before the Father interceding for us!”
This year (2017), Ascension Day is Thursday, May 25th. If Jesus Christ is your Savior and the Lord of your life, take some time to reflect on how perfectly he loves us and how grateful we are for his continuing work on our behalf before the throne of God in heaven.
Dawson, Gerrit Scott. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004. p. 3-5.
Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004. p. 159.
Image above: “Ascension.” Salvador Dali, 1958.