Forty days after Jesus’s resurrection, the biblical storyline takes a remarkable turn: Jesus disappears. “He was taken up before their very eyes,” Luke tells us, “and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). Two angels then tell the disciples that Jesus was “taken into heaven” (Acts 1:11)
So what do we make of this plot twist in the Bible’s story? How should we understand our crucified and risen Lord’s ascension? Michael Horton observes that we typically “treat the ascension as little more than a dazzling exclamation point for the resurrection rather than as a new event in its own right.”
Yet the ascension is a vital part of the redemption story. If we simply collapse the ascension into the resurrection, we miss stunning benefits tied directly to Jesus being taken into heaven.
Here are five ways the ascension of Jesus benefits us.
1. It establishes Jesus as the reigning king over all powers in all ages.
Ephesians 1:20–21 speaks of the power God exerted when he “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Further, we have been “seated with him in the heavenly realms in Jesus Christ” (Eph. 2:6–7). This is remarkable! As Peter O’Brien explains, “Not only do the readers participate in Christ’s resurrection life; they also share in his exaltation and victory over the powers.”
Horton also explains how the ascension made this victory over evil powers possible:
Jesus Christ did not ascend spiritually, leaving behind his body and world history; rather he ascended in the flesh, opening up space within history for the in-breaking of the powers of the age to come.
For this reason, Paul summons us to stand against Satan’s schemes (Eph. 6:11). It’s the Lord’s power that makes this possible (Eph. 6:10)—a power we can access as believers seated in the heavenly realms with our ascended King. We need this power since the problems we face appear to be human conflicts, but are ultimately struggles with the forces of darkness (Eph. 6:12).
2. It gives us access to God’s throne for mercy and grace.
In Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14). “Passed through the heavens” is the ascension language; Jesus passed through the heavens to be seated at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3).
What’s the result? We can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Whether we are battling cancer, bitterness, betrayal, pride, or discouragement, we can pray with confidence because of our ascended Lord who intercedes for us.
3. It provides an Advocate on earth whose presence is limitless.
The night before he was crucified, Jesus promised his disciples that he would “ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). Later, he returns to this theme: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
What advantage would this create for the disciples? They followed and loved Jesus. Why would they want him to leave so the Spirit could come? It almost sounds like a parent saying to their children, “It’s better if I leave so my cousin can come take care of you.” How is Jesus’s leaving an advantage for his disciples?
The answer is simple, yet profound. The incarnate Jesus was limited by space and time. He couldn’t be with each one of his followers at once. I remember the frustration I felt when my twins, Anna and Ben, were playing basketball games simultaneously in different gyms. I watched one game until a time-out or end of a quarter. Then I ran through the hallways to the other gym. I wanted to be there for both, but it was impossible. I was limited by time and space. So was Jesus. If he had stayed on earth, he couldn’t have been there simultaneously for Peter in Rome and John on the island of Patmos. But the Holy Spirit can. His empowering presence is available to all Jesus’s followers everywhere at the same time.
4. It gives us the spoils of Christ’s victory—gifted leaders and spiritual gifts.
In Ephesians 4:7–12, Paul connects the grace we’ve received with the ascension. This grace refers to spiritual gifts Paul describes elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 12) and to the gifted ministers of the Word (Eph. 4:11).
Paul makes the connection by quoting Psalm 68:18, a description of God’s triumphal ascension to his throne after leading his people out of Egypt and into Canaan. Frank Thielman writes, “Paul insists Psalm 68:18 refers to Christ. . . . Acting in the role of God himself in Psalm 68:17–18, Christ had triumphed over the cosmic forces arrayed against God’s people.”
Then, from his lofty position at God’s right hand, Christ distributes gifts to God’s people to mature them. So we share in Christ’s heavenly triumph, Horton asserts, “not by imitating his ascension but by receiving its benefits—specifically the gifts and gifted leaders needed for building up the church in unity and maturity.”
5. It keeps us longing for his return.
At Jesus’s ascension, the two angels declared: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The ascension creates a longing for Jesus’s return. It reminds us his reign is “already” but “not yet.” Though presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb. 1:3), Jesus will return earth to establish his kingdom in fullness and put his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24–27).
It’s no wonder we are longing for the return of our King! When Jesus descends in the way he ascended, the bad times will be over for good, the darkness will lift, and everything sad will at last come untrue.
Reflect on It Today
Now you know why Jesus disappeared. His ascension wasn’t merely an exclamation point at the end of the resurrection; it provided his followers with power, grace, mercy, presence, gifts, and anticipation enabling them to advance his mission.
On this Ascension Day (40 days after the resurrection), take time to reflect on how Jesus’s ascension changed everything. Respond to the psalmist’s call to “forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). Indeed, some of his most remarkable benefits flow to us as a result of Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand.