Hope for Then and Now (3)
The LORD said to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Psalm 110.1
The ascension of Christ
Hope, we recall, is the focusing affection, bringing all the affections of heart together for achieving one overarching and all-embracing objective: knowing God in His glory. This is our living hope. We will not make much progress in our living hope until we begin to concentrate our minds and hearts on the One in Whom that hope coheres – our Lord Jesus Christ. I suspect that when most Christians think about Jesus, some image from the period of His incarnation comes to mind. Looking back on Him during those years, we imagine His tenderness, compassion, kindness, and love, and want to emulate that in our own lives.
The Puritan John Owen was certain every believer held some image of Jesus in mind: “Every [believer] hath the idea or image of Christ in his mind, in the eye of faith, as it is represented unto him in the glass of the Gospel…We behold His glory ‘in a glass,’ which implants the image of it on our minds.” This, Owen insisted, is a very good thing, because “hereby the mind is transformed into the same image, made like unto Christ so represented unto us – which is the conformity we speak of. Hence every true believer hath his heart under the conduct of an habitual inclination and desire to be like unto Christ” (Christologia).
It’s good for us to focus on Jesus like this. Looking back at Jesus can help us to lay hold on our living hope, so that He increases and we decrease in every area of life.
But looking back at Jesus is only one of four “looks” we must sustain if we are to be captivated by our living hope and focused on the Lord in every area of our lives. In addition to looking back, we need to learn to look up, around, and ahead if we want to gain the full scope of the hope in which we stand.
The doctrine of the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the most overlooked teachings of the Christian Church in our day. Having risen from the dead, Jesus was lifted to heaven as the apostles stood by, watching Him ascend (Acts 1.9). Luke leaves us, like the apostles, looking into the heavens, staring at the cloud which took Jesus out of their sight, scratching our heads and wondering what happens next.
Beyond that lifting cloud a good deal more went on and is going on, and we can learn about the details of Christ’s ascension and enthronement by looking into the book of Psalms. From what we see there, the exaltation of Christ to His throne of glory becomes much more important than perhaps most of us tend to think.
The order of the exaltation
Let’s note first the order of events surrounding the ascension of Christ. The resurrection of Christ is foretold in Psalm 16.10, as Peter indicated (Acts 2.27-31), thus setting the stage for the events of the ascension.
First, there is Jesus’ appearing in the courts of heaven: “God has gone up with a shout, The Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Ps. 47.5, 6; cf. Dan. 7.13, 14) When Jesus emerged from that cloud into the unseen realm of God, the angels, and the departed saints, a great victory shout arose spontaneously, as all rose and applauded and sang and hurrahed to welcome their triumphant King.
Next comes the invitation of the Father: “Sit at My right hand” (Ps. 110.1). This word from the Father, welcoming His Son home and His King into glory, was to acknowledge that He had completed His work on earth, and now He was ready to continue His work from heaven.
At this the Father solemnly declared the purpose of Christ’s enthronement: “You are My Son…Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations forYour inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Ps. 2.8). Lest there be any misunderstanding on the part of any creature, Jesus was now appointed to rule not only in heaven, but throughout the creation, over every creature and every nation. His mandate, seated at the Father’s right hand, is to establish His rule to the very ends of the earth and, by extension, throughout the vast cosmos.
With that, Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness and given the scepter of uprightness with which to rule and advance His Kingdom (cf. Ps. 45.2, 6). The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is a Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, which He is working to advance as He rides out among His people and equips them for Kingdom work (Ps. 45.3-6, cf. Rom. 14.17, 18). From His throne in glory, Jesus the all-glorious and all-sovereign One, is filling the world with Himself through those He has called into His living hope (Eph. 1.15-23; 4.8-10). Seeing Him in glory, setting our minds there, emboldens us in our hearts to live for the glory of our Lord in everything we do (Col. 3.1-3; 1 Cor. 10.31).
Unseen, but real
All this happened somehow, by some means, in the realm of unseen beings – God, angels, departed saints. Yet it’s very real; indeed, it is the ground for all our hope as Christians. The psalmists use rich metaphors and vivid language to describe the splendors and glories of the exalted Christ (cf. Pss. 90, 93), but these are but feeble tools for communicating the richness and wonder of that unseen realm. They cannot really convey to us the utter beauty and magnificence and the overwhelming power of the rule of King Jesus.
Still, it’s what we’re encouraged to “see”, if only with the eye of faith (Eph. 1.15-23). And we are called to see it, to set our minds, as Paul puts it, on these things above, where Jesus is seated in heavenly places, and from where He is continuing His great work of making all things new. The more clearly and continuously we see these things, and the more firmly we believe them, the greater will be our hope, and the more will appear in our lives the holy evidence of the unseen, but very real power, of the risen and reigning Christ (Heb. 11.1).
By focusing on Christ, our exalted and living hope, we gain the hope that does not disappoint, but that leads us in exceedingly abundantly beyond exertions for the glory of God (Rom. 5.5; Eph. 3.20).
1. What’s the difference between something being “unseen” and “unreal”? Can “unseen things” be real enough to make a difference in our world? Explain.
2. In your own words, describe the scene in heaven when Jesus emerged from the cloud that lifted Him up from the apostles. How often do you contemplate this scene? Does this matter for our faith? Why or why not? What does it suggest about the nature of Christ’s rule (Kingdom)?
3. How would you counsel a new believer to begin practicing Colossians 3.1-3?
Next steps - Preparation: Take time today to contemplate Jesus risen in glory, using the psalms mentioned in this article. Focus on the glorious image of King Jesus revealed there. Then practice “looking up” like this during some part of every day.
T. M. Moore
Focusing on Jesus
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
How can we increase in the knowledge of God and the living hope of His glory? Our book, To Know Him, can help you become more focused and active in seeking the knowledge of the Lord. Order your free copy by clicking here. You can see Jesus more clearly by understanding what He’s doing in heaven at the right hand of God. Our book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to focus more clearly on our living hope. Order your free copy by clicking here.
Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.