The Time Has Come for an “Ascension Reformation”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week Dr. Russell Moore helped us to start rethinking the importance of Christ’s ascension, when our King went up on high to take his place of supremacy over the Church and over the universe. In a follow-up blog, David Bryant carries our thinking a step further, by calling for a radical “reformation” today among God’s people, as we apply the doctrine of the Ascension to every facet of precept and practice.]
Here’s a question I’ll bet no one has ever asked you before:
Out of the rich spectrum of foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith, which teaching do you think may have become the most widely neglected biblical truth within the contemporary Church—including the nearly three-quarters of a billion Christians who make up the global evangelical movement?
Would it be the Trinity? The Atonement? Ecclesiology? Eschatology? Missiology? Signs and wonders?
My answer? The Ascension. Let me tell you why.
Consider this: How many of us ever hear anyone speak on the Ascension in any way comparable to how other major doctrines are debated and discussed? For that matter, when was the last time your congregation set aside an entire Sunday to celebrate the Ascension the way we do the Incarnation, or the Resurrection?
Come to think of it, when was the last time your church received one full message on the topic?
This vacuum should give us pause. Why?
Let me ask you this: After his resurrection, why did Jesus remain behind for weeks, unpacking for his disciples deeper teachings on God’s kingdom as seen in the light of his sufferings and triumphs (Acts 1, Luke 24, John 20 21). What was his main goal for this 40-day super-seminar?
Attention on the Ascension
Foremost, he was preparing them to handle and understand the soul-shaking revelation they were about to undergo at their “graduation.” They were going to witness the Coronation of the Son of God—the day all authority in heaven and on earth would be bestowed on him visibly, in perpetuity; the day he would be inaugurated, before saints and angels, as monarch over all, openly elevated by the Father to the Throne of Glory.
As Scripture puts it: “ . . . he was taken up to heaven. The apostles watched until a cloud hid him from their sight.” Suddenly angels appeared to reassure the earthlings, “Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. But he will come back in the same way you saw him go” (Acts 1:9-11, NIRV).
What an explosive drama of discovery for them! It initiated them into fresh, unforeseen, unforgettable insights into the nature and nobleness of their exalted Savior.
It should come as no surprise that years later one of those who stood on the Mount of Olives, watching this royal processional unfold, reflected on its true significance by using apocalyptic language:
The Woman gave birth to a Son
who will shepherd all nations with an iron rod.
Her Son was seized and placed safely
before God on his Throne . . .
Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying,
“Salvation and power are established!
Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah!”
(Revelation 12, The Message, emphasis added).
Pretty impressive imagery, wouldn’t you say?
So then, considering how important affirming Jesus’ cosmic transition was to him and for his disciples, why is there so little attention to the Ascension throughout the Church today?
Furthermore, how much longer will this history-changing, reality-altering event be allowed to remain sidelined in our commemorative routines? In our preaching? In our praying? In our witnessing?
Commemorating Christ Ascending
We know the worldwide Christian family enjoys memorializing other key junctures in Jesus’ redeeming ministry.
For example, we embellish Christmas to honor Jesus’ incarnation. We fast at Lent to focus on his costly defeat of the flesh and the devil. His atoning death on the cross we mark as Good Friday. His triumphant destruction of the grave we celebrate as Easter. His empowering of the Church for mission by the Holy Spirit is observed as Pentecost Sunday.
Then why shouldn’t that poignantly pivotal event—the crowning day for our King—get an annual celebration as well?
Yes, I know; technically Ascension Day remains on the religious calendars of a number of Church bodies (Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans), designated as a “holy day” seven weeks after Easter. So at least that gives us a place to begin.
However, to ignite a wholesale, unified, global public observance throughout the Church we need to prioritize, publicize, and get passionate about the glorious truth of the Ascension—almost as if, just a moment ago, we ourselves stood with the disciples on the Mount Olives watching it happen.
After all, for the Father, who knows the end from the beginning, in a very real sense it did just happen!
Let’s Call the Church into an “Ascension Reformation”
Yes, we need more attention on the Ascension. But what we really need is an “Ascension Reformation”!
Of course, we are earnest in confessing with Paul: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6). But on the other hand, let’s not forget that the cross and the crown remain eternally inseparable, just as Hebrews 1 reminds us:
He provided the way for people to be made pure from sin.
Then he sat down at the right hand of the King, the Majesty in heaven.
So he became higher than the angels.
The name he received is more excellent than theirs
(NIRV, emphasis added).
Of course, when we’re baptized, we’re united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6). But, at the same time we’re also raised up with Christ to sit with him in the realms of heaven (Ephesians 2). That means the transaction of baptism finds its ratification in the Ascension. For example, 1 Peter 3 couples our baptism into Christ with the exaltation of Christ:
The waters of baptism do that for you,
not by washing away dirt from your skin
but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection
before God with a clear conscience.
Jesus has the last word
on everything and everyone, from angels to armies.
He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes
(The Message, emphasis added).
We need more attention on the Ascension. We need an “Ascension Reformation”!
Weekly Sunday school classes and sermons often expound principles on practical Christian living, urging our character and actions to line up with those of Jesus. This has value, of course.
But where is the other teaching that needs to go on, the kind of vision casting that emphasizes his character and his actions and his ongoing life unfolding at the Throne? Where are the messages that major on who he is, how he thinks, what he is doing, where he’s headed, and how he continues to prevail at this very hour?
The Church must start hearing much more about how God’s abundant promises are fulfilled today in substantial ways only by the sustained sovereignty of Jesus—which is so essential to effective, victorious Christian living.
The Church must start hearing much more about the indispensable synergy between daily discipleship to Christ and the continuing dominion of Christ—the way Paul interfaces the two:
He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ . . .
Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven
in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us,
with all the time in this world and the next
to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus . . .
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus
to join him in the work he does,
the good work he has gotten ready for us to do,
work we had better be doing
(Ephesians 2, The Message, emphasis added).
The Church must face up to the spiritually disabling impact we’re experiencing due to our long-term neglect of the event of Christ’s enthronement and its manifold aftermath in the unfolding of God’s plan for the ages and our place in it.
Every year denominations and ministry organizations sponsor hundreds of high-level assemblies, seminars, convocations, and conferences. We meet to address pressing topics, such as racial reconciliation, personal evangelism, church growth, end times preparations, leadership principles, kingdom-styled social justice, city/community gospel movements, spiritual gifts and empowerment, challenges in world missions, the need for national revival—as well as simply to hear experts exchange academic persuasions on current theological debates.
All of this is well and good in its proper place.
But what about Jesus our King, installed at the right hand of the Father?
When will we begin to honor the incomparable, monumental inauguration of God’s Messiah, magnifying its potent implications for our spiritual vitality, our shared life together, our ministry to the nations?
If Jesus seated on the Throne is the single most remarkable reality in the universe at this hour—and it is—it must comprise the preeminent topic in our seminars and sermons. Not that it will be the only topic, of course. But at least it should be the hottest topic! It must become the focus that shapes how we think and talk about everything else.
The time for such an “Ascension Reformation” has dawned upon us.
What if We Convened a “Convocation on the Coronation”?
What would happen if a cross-section of Christian leaders convened for three days to explore the broad ramifications of Christ’s coronation?
What if this convocation sought to relate every facet of Christ’s supremacy to every major doctrine and dimension of Christian dogma and discipleship?
- I firmly believe one such historic gathering could jump-start a modern day reformation movement!
- I firmly believe it could ignite a spiritual revolution throughout the Church fueled by the reclamation of a greater, grander, more glorious Christology!
- I firmly believe it could launch a wholesale transformation of Christians’ passion for Christ, through a fresh exaltation of Christ, that’s based on a full embrace of the ascension of Christ!
Jesus ascended. This was and remains the climactic outcome, the ultimate destination for which he descended into our world in the first place. As Scripture records:
. . . he also came down to the lower, earthly places.
The one who came down is the same one who went up.
He went up higher than all the heavens.
He did it in order to fill all creation
(Ephesians 4, NIRV, emphasis added).
Note that phrase: “in order to fill all creation.”
This will result, ultimately, in every corner of the universe giving full attention to the Ascension. But it needs to begin now. In our churches. In our ministries. In our marriages. In our lives.
We must not delay. The time has come to foster a full-blown “Ascension Reformation!”
I’m ready to do this.
Will you join me?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bryant
Known as a proclaimer of Christ and Messenger of Hope, David Bryant is the founder and president of Proclaim Hope!, an outreach whose goal is to serve a nationwide Christ Awakening. David is the author of many books, including Christ Is ALL! Join in the Joyful Awakening to the Supremacy of God’s Son. David and Robyne have been serving Christ together for over 40 years. Their most important ministry, however, remains centered on their three adult children and their spouses, and their four grandchildren.