Where You (and All Creation) Are Headed—and Why
HE WENT UP ON HIGH!
Part Three of a Seven-Part Series on the Ascension of Christ
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In anticipation of May 25, Ascension Day 2017, David Bryant is helping us take a closer look at this monumental, watershed event in the saving ministry of Christ. From decades of travel into every stream of the Church, David has discovered that the Ascension is ignored or misunderstood by millions of believers—to our great loss. He wants to challenge this deficit. Curiously, David begins this third installment by recalling a popular Disney cartoon released several years ago.]
Our Destiny Felt in a “CG” Moment
Nominated in 2009 for five Academy Awards including for best picture, Up is a computer-animated, comedy-drama adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios. The story centers on an elderly widower named Carl who is determined to fulfill his decades-long dream to see the wilds of South America. To get there he ties nearly 20,000 helium balloons to his home. The computer-generated (CG) visuals used to portray the fanciful flight drew millions of viewers into the dramatic ascent of an entire house into a rarified atmosphere.
Lasting only five minutes of screen time, the liftoff of Carl’s house unsuspectingly thrilled audiences worldwide with a foretaste of the destiny of all believers as promised in 1 Thessalonians 4:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command . . . [we] will be caught up together . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (emphasis added).
Up! Because Jesus went up on high 40 days after his resurrection, all who trust in him are moving the same direction through him. Since the global Church celebrates Ascension Day tomorrow, why don’t we talk a little about its implications for where you and I are headed and why.
UP Is the Operative Word
Up! This word could be used to mark every facet of Christ’s saving ministry on our behalf!
In the Incarnation, Jesus showed up to become victor over the old creation for us. In the Crucifixion, he surrendered up to the cross to become victor over the curse of sin for us. In the Resurrection, he rose up as the victor over death and hell for us. In the Ascension, he went up to become the victor and ruler over a whole new creation for us.
Jesus Was Lifted Up Four Different Ways
Up! At least four times in Christ’s earthly mission for our salvation we could say he was lifted up.
- In the temple Jesus was lifted up in the hands of Simeon when the prophet set Jesus before Jehovah to consecrate the infant’s life for divine purposes (Luke 2).
- Our Savior was lifted up again when his enemies transfixed him to a wooden cross and raised it outside the walls of the city (John 12).
- Three days later he was lifted up once again by the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave to live forever more (Romans 8).
- Nearly six weeks later the Son was lifted up one more time as the Father took him to the throne of heaven, exalted him to his right hand, and proclaimed him unconditionally to be Lord of all. In Revelation 12 it is written:
She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne . . . Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah (NIV).
Before Going Up Jesus Was Offered Up
Up! To say it another way: Christ offered himself up. He did so by two inseparable transactions, the second validating the first. On the cross he offered himself up to the Father as the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world. After he entered heaven triumphantly, however, he continues to offer up himself as the all-sufficient sacrifice whose blood continues to cleanse us from all sin:
. . . we have [present tense] an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is [present tense] the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2, NIV).
Whatever phrase we use—went up, lifted up, offered up—by going UP Jesus has become God’s good news for earth’s peoples. Descending, he put himself in the hands of his enemies for our sake. Ascending, he put himself in the hands of the Father for our sake. In both cases, it would be fair to say he now “draws all people to himself”—he draws them UP.
And when I am lifted UP from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself (John 12, NLT, emphasis added).
Why Did Jesus Go Up Publicly?
Like most ministry high points during Jesus’ earthly life, the Ascension was thoroughly public.
Consider: Christ was born publicly, witnessed by parents and shepherds. He ministered publicly, constantly pressed by the crowds. He died publicly, with scoffers baying at his feet. He rose again publicly, seen by as many as five hundred at one time (1 Corinthians 15).
So it should come as no surprise that he ascended publicly, witnessed by an estimated 120 followers as well as legions of angels.
Therefore, today the Church should expect to experience many “public” manifestations of King Jesus’ current reign, in all kinds of ways, whether within the Church or among the nations.
He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe (Ephesians 4, NIV, emphasis added).
His divine interventions today are substantial, unmistakable validations that not only has he truly gone up on high but that he intends to take us with him—not just into the future Consummation but also right now as we taste “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6, NIRV).
A Man—One of Us—Has Gone Up Into the Glory!
Who is sitting at God’s right hand? None other than Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary! He openly carried his humanity with him into glory. Therefore, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, his destiny has become our destiny.
A Man—One of Us—Has Gone Up Into the Glory!
“The dust of the earth sits on the throne of heaven” (John Duncan). One of us has gone before us. “God in the flesh” remains flesh. Unashamedly, Jesus’ glorified body still bears the marks of his sufferings, forever testifying to all that our Sovereign remains the only sacrifice for our souls.
A Man—One of Us—Has Gone Up Into the Glory!
Right now, the Son’s exalted, sinless, holy humanity shapes how he reigns over us. The firmness, tenderness, intentionality, holy anger, sympathies, joys, commitments, convictions, passions, and compassions he exhibited in the years of his humility continue to define the heart of King Jesus and how he rules at this very hour.
A Man—One of Us—Has Gone Up Into the Glory!
Jesus’ passion and coronation are inextricably bound together forever. The cross has been corroborated by the crown. The head once encircled with painful thorns is now anointed amidst pulsating choirs. The sign affixed to the crucible—“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”—now blazes across the galaxies. In his death he cried, “It is finished!” In his exaltation the Father cried, “Yes it is!” Enthronement was the Father’s reward for his Son’s unwavering submission to his eternal plan, even to the dregs of death.
. . . he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth (Philippians 2, PHILLIPS, emphasis added).
Because One of Us Has Already Gone Up, We Can Too
And because the Lord Jesus Christ is one of us he intends for all who belong to him to follow him there, not just later but right now. He has gone before us to open the way for us to join him, not just later but right now. As Hebrews 10 declares:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings (NIV, emphasis added).
The Ascension transformed Jesus’ defeat of sin and death from a onetime act on the cross into a permanent reality that has now become the defining destiny of all who take shelter under his saving scepter. Paul states the promise clearly:
. . . we eagerly await a Savior from there [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3, NIV, emphasis added).
Down Then Up—for Jesus and All Who Live in Him
With his ascension, Jesus came full circle. What came down went back up.
He who descended to the lowest point (the cross) ascended to rule over all. He who moved earthward, even into the depths of our sin and disgrace, reversed course and went upward, returning to the place of highest honor. Whatever “distance” between Father and Son was created by his coming among us, as one of us, was permanently closed when Jesus sat back down on high.
This is the way of the Kingdom, even for Jesus.
A cradle was replaced by a throne, and a stable by a palace. His identity as just a village carpenter has given way to holding the only Name by which mankind can be saved (Acts 4). Once engaged in a lonely, desert struggle with Satan, now he has openly crushed our enemy with a rod of iron.
He was stripped naked on Golgotha, but today all creation provides him a resplendent robe. Once abhorred by religious leaders, today he’s adored by all the saints and angels above (Revelation 5). There was an hour when he was gasping for enough air to cry out, “I thirst,” but today with a roar he declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28, NIV).
Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant, but the Father’s cosmic crowning of his Son bestowed on him uncontested sovereignty across the ages. Of course, inherently Christ always possessed the power to govern. What’s more, by his redeeming work he could claim the right to govern. But, once seated at God’s right hand, he was given the active role of championing the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan.
The despised and rejected Jesus revealed in Isaiah 53 is the opposite of what we see in Revelation 1. Isaiah writes of Jesus:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him . . . Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem (NIV).
But today, he presides as supreme, regaled in the vestments displayed to John in Revelation 1:
[He was] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on this head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters (NIV).
He Wants Us to Go Up With Him
When the Redeemer King came down and then went back up, he fully intended to take with him a host of followers united to him by faith and by the Spirit of God—a transaction foreshadowed in Psalm 68 (referenced by Paul in Ephesians 4 when writing about the Ascension):
May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him . . . When you ascended on high, you took many captives . . . Your procession, God, has come into view, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary (NIV, emphasis added).
This is precisely what he assured all disciples his last night in the upper room:
I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14, NIV, emphasis added).
Just as the blood of the cross reconciles everything back to the Father bringing unity between heaven and earth, even more crucially that sacrifice reunites helpless sinners and a holy God; and it does so in such a way that we may call him our Father because he draws us to himself in our union with Jesus as if we were Jesus already gone up on high.
When Everything That’s Up Finally Comes Back Down
Scripture testifies that we are so fully absorbed into the reign of Christ and taken up into the glory of Christ that our destiny is nothing else but a new earth fully saturated with the glory of Christ. But this is just the beginning of the drama ahead of us.
There’s a third act, which space won’t allow us to explore in this blog post. In the end, the Bible concludes by showing us that what comes down and then goes up will ultimately come back down again—and we with it!
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride . . . “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God . . . for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21, NIV, emphasis added).
We Have a Standing Invitation From Christ: “Come Up!”
Even now, before the trumpet sounds to call us UP to “meet him in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4), the Father offers us the same invitation he gave to John in Revelation 4:
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come UP here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it (NIV, emphasis added).
“Come up here.” Dying with Christ and buried with Christ, we are raised with Christ and invited to be seated with him, right now, in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2). That has profound practical implications for our daily walk with him.
“Come up here.” That means we who have been “crucified with Christ” can now say, “nevertheless, Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2). In other words, the Ascended One is ready to live out his ascended life right now in all who belong to him, causing us to dwell every day we walk on earth in full view of, in the reach of, and by the power of “things above where Christ sits” (Colossians 3).
How You Might Celebrate Ascension Day Tomorrow
Therefore, let me end with this suggestion: Tomorrow on Ascension Day, why not recommit yourself to take the invitation to “come up here”?
Start to practice living consciously, hour by hour, in the presence of the King of heaven—which is, in truth, where you are dwelling in union with him. Each day see yourself sleeping, eating, working, serving, worshiping, recreating, and loving in the very throne room of the King—here and now.
As a Jesus follower why don’t you start truly “living it UP!”