Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1.9
Taken up, but not taken away
During the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus spoke about His ascension into heaven. He told the unbelieving Jews that He would be “going away” and that where He was going, they would not be able to come (Jn. 8.21). He told the disciples He was going to His Father’s house, where He would “prepare a place” for them (Jn. 14.2, 3). “A little while longer,” He explained, “and the world will see Me no more” (Jn. 14.19). Nevertheless, He promised His disciples, “but you will see Me.”
How could they – and how can we – see Jesus, since He is no longer with us, as He was during His sojourn on earth? In his book, Exalted above the heavens, Peter C. Orr explains: “The knowledge of God is revealed in the face of Christ. Thus with Christ removed from the earth the availability of this revelation seems compromised. However, through the gospel and the illuminating work of God in the heart, Christ is made manifest, his face can be comprehended, the icon of God grasped and the knowledge of the glory of God attained.”
The Gospel is simply the Good News of God’s Kingdom, of Jesus as its King, and of the salvation and restoration we may know by grace through faith in Him. This Good News is the theme of all Scripture (Jn. 5.39); thus, as we read through the Bible, we expect to discover Jesus, present in every text, so that we may see Him with the eyes of our heart, even though He has ascended beyond physical sight and is seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places. As the Spirit of God illuminates the revelation of Jesus Christ, we may form an understanding of Him in our hearts and minds that leads us to love Him more, and to be increasingly transformed into His image. As we believe what the Spirit shows us from God’s Word, we may expect to see Jesus in His glory.
But we must apply ourselves to the specific revelation of God that can bring the light of Christ into our souls – in prayer, by meditation and patient contemplation – so that we may see, as it were, beyond the veil, into the eternal throne room of the Lord. Then, as we set our minds on the things that are above, we can nurture a vision of Christ enthroned, that we can set before us always, so that we know His Presence with us for hope, power, righteousness, peace, and joy at all times.
The work of nurturing such a vision begins with the ascension of our Lord, as He passed out of physical sight, through the heavens, and returned to His Father’s house, victorious over sin, death, and the devil. It is essential that we see this event, and what it leads to, as the Scriptures report. For, as Peter C. Orr explains, “Christian hope, Christian life, Christian faith and Christian theology are all inextricably bound up with the exalted Christ.”
Let’s consider three passages of the Gospel in Scripture that can help us to envision this glorious event.
This is the obvious place to begin in following Jesus as He ascended from the earth into the throne room of the Lord. The text is clear. Whatever your vision of Jesus during His earthly sojourn may be – that welcoming, strong, compassionate, patient, healing Poet and Savior – you should not have any difficulty envisioning Him rising from the earth. Jesus “was taken up.” He began to ascend bodily from the presence of His disciples. Then “a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
That’s not too hard to envision, either. Jesus ascended into a cloud, then He “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4.14), which, while we cannot see this with the physical eye, we can certainly imagine with a little effort. We don’t need to see Jesus moving to the edge of the physical universe, as if heaven existed somewhere beyond the cosmos. Rather, He simply passed out of the seen realm into the unseen realm, which exists all around us all the time (Heb. 12.1).
And this brings us to our second text.
Psalm 47 may have been written to celebrate the ascension of Solomon to the throne of Israel (since it is a psalm of the sons of Korah, who served during Solomon’s day, 1 Chron. 26.19). However, the psalm uses the ascension of Solomon to recall the sovereign rule of God, and to look forward to the ascension of the coming King, not just of Israel, but of all the earth (Ps. 47.3, 9).
The psalmists envision God (Jesus) going up, greeted by a great shout (v. 5). As Jesus entered the unseen realm, having ascended from the earth and passed through the heavens, He was welcomed by a great shout and “the sound of a trumpet” (v. 5), announcing His return as the conquering King. With that, all the assembled hosts of heaven – departed saints and majestic angels – burst into applause (v. 1) and hailed Him with loud voices as the awesome and great “King over all the earth” (vv. 1, 2).
Praise erupted all around (vv. 6, 7), and shouts went up concerning His coming victory over all peoples and all the earth. Praise and shouting continued, and glad declarations of the coming inheritance – He Himself, Who is the “excellence of Jacob” – which Paul prayed that we might see in Ephesians 1.15-23.
Now switch to the vision granted to Daniel.
Jesus – “One like the Son of Man” – entered heaven, carried on the clouds that received Him above the earth (Dan. 7.13). As He emerged from those clouds, a great shout, the sound of a trumpet, and an irrepressible uproar of shouting and praise arose throughout the unseen realm. He moved through “thousands and thousands” of those who minister to the Ancient of Days, coming through that clapping, shouting, praise-singing crowd, toward the throne of Him Who is seated in holiness and fire (v. 9). Another throne was made ready (v. 9), and the ascended Jesus made His way there to take His place, in His glorified body, with the trumpets and plaudits resounding fro a multitude greater than can be numbered.
The scene recalls the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but multiplied, enlarged, expanded, and made brilliant by a factor beyond anything we can imagine. Jesus continued His victory procession toward the throne of His Father, as the cheering throngs of saints and angels “brought Him near” to the Ancient of Days. Can you see it? Departed saints and holy angels rushed to Jesus’ side from the far reaches of the unseen realm. Jesus welcomed them and received their praise, all the while resolutely advancing toward His Father in glory.
Jesus ascended into heaven. He has returned to His Father’s house. The place was filled with celebrations of praise and expressions of confidence in what Jesus’ return portended. And for very good reason, indeed. For now, with Jesus’ return, the promise can begin to be realized of a Kingdom in heaven and on earth which will never end (Is. 9.7).
1. Why should you try to envision the ascension of Jesus into heaven?
2. How does seeing Jesus as He ascended improve your ability to fix your mind on the things that are above?
3. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11.1). How should seeing Jesus in His ascension affect your daily walk with Him? What evidence should you expect to see in your life of the fact that you see this unseen scene?
Next steps – Transformation: Fix the vision of Jesus ascending in your mind, and let it call you to prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and anticipation throughout the day.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.