Coop's Column - He Ascended to Heaven

God’s Word declares that Jesus, his appointed task on earth having been finished, returned to his Father in heaven. Trusting that Word, Christians triumphantly confess the words in the Apostle’s Creed: “He ascended into heaven.”

God’s Word declares that Jesus, his appointed task on earth having been finished, returned to his Father in heaven. Trusting that Word, Christians triumphantly confess the words in the Apostle’s Creed: “He ascended into heaven.”

About Jesus’ ascension, the Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th century Reformed Christian statement of faith declares:

Christ,
while his disciples watched,
was lifted up from earth to heaven
and will be there for our good
until he comes again
to judge the living and the dead.

Just before he departed earth and returned to heaven, Jesus spoke to his disciples. He made an astonishing claim about himself, and he gave them an all-important command. The claim: “All power is given to me in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:19) The command: “You will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) The claim placed them under his protection and his authority; the command put them under obligation to him. He spoke the claim to strengthen and comfort his followers. He gave the command to tell them what He wanted them to do.

Having heard both their Lord’s claim and command , Jesus’ followers were left in no doubt that they were:

1. Under orders

The ascension narrative states: “When he had spoken these things.” The words are a direct reference to the fact that Jesus, the Father’s heaven-sent prophet, had declared God’s word and will. It was in the context of this prophetic authority that the disciples heard the Lord’s command: “You shall be my witnesses.”

That direct command from their risen, about-to-ascend Lord set the disciples’ central agenda for the rest of their lives. No matter where they were, no matter with what other activities they might now and then choose to fill some of their hours and days, above all else they knew that they were under Divine obligation to announce the Good News that their Lord’s death and resurrection has brought life. They had been privileged eyewitnesses of his resurrection; now they, in turn, were to bear witness to what they had heard and seen.

2. Gifted by and under Guidance of his Spirit

Prior to his ascension, Jesus declared: “It is useful for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) True to his word, after he ascended, Jesus did send his Spirit. And the Spirit brought gifts to enable Jesus’ followers to bear him witness and to offer him service.

Through his Spirit the ascended Jesus also promised to guide his people. Humbly, prayerfully, and communally, therefore, they could boldly plead for his help to “discern what is best” in every circumstance. (cf. Phil 1:9-11)

3. To be on the alert, eagerly awaiting his return to judge and to reign

At Jesus’ ascension, the angels announced: “This same Jesus, who went away … shall come again.” That promise was meant to keep the disciples’ hope alive and to strengthen their courage. Amid the immense weight of the world’s sadness and the threats they faced as they bore witness to Jesus, they were to keep their eyes fixed on nothing and no one else than their risen Lord. They were to be on tiptoe always, awaiting his return eagerly.

The same claim and command he originally spoke to his earliest disciples Jesus also longs to speak no less directly and clearly to us. For this reason we gather weekly to hear him. Doing so, we listen to him tell us that we, too, no less than his earliest disciples, are under his protecting and sovereign authority. We hear him tell us, that we, too, no less than they, are under orders to be his witnesses. We learn that we, too, no less than they, are engifted by his Spirit and under his guidance as we carry out our calling. And we hear angels summoning us to be wide-awake eager for his coming again.

In response to this news joyfully we sing:

Alleluia! Not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us; faith believes, nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget his promise, “I am with you evermore”?

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