The Ascension of Christ by Salvador Dali, 1958
The Time Has Come for an
Will You Join Me?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: May 10 was Ascension Day, 2018. This special holy day has been celebrated for centuries in the Church worldwide. Yet few Christians in America know much about it, let alone spend any time thinking about the meaning of Jesus’ ascension and its implications for life in Christ. David Bryant carries our thinking a step further, not only by looking at the significance of the cosmic crowning of God’s Son but also by calling for a radical “reformation” today among God’s people, as we rediscover how to apply the doctrine of the Ascension to every facet of Christian practice.]
Here’s one question I’ll bet no one has ever asked you before. But your answer could permanently upgrade your entire walk with God’s Son.
Out of the rich spectrum of foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith, which teaching do you think appears to be the most widely neglected biblical truth within the contemporary Church (including three-quarters of a billion Christians who make up the global evangelical movement)?
Would you say the Trinity? Or the Atonement? Ecclesiology? Eschatology? Missiology? Signs and wonders?
With no hesitation, my answer is this: the Ascension.
Consider: How many of us ever hear another Christian bring up the topic of the Ascension in any way comparable to how other major doctrines get debated and discussed?
For that matter, when was the last time your congregation (or your campus fellowship or small group Bible study) set aside just one day, like a Sunday, to celebrate the ascension of King Jesus the way we do the Incarnation (Christmas) or the Resurrection (Easter)?
Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard one entire sermon on this amazing phenomenon?
The neglect of this great, cosmic dimension in our salvation should give all of us pause. It also should move us to corrective action as soon as possible! Why? For many reasons. Let me share some.
Put Your Attention on the Ascension
Question: 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 forty-day super-seminar?
Answer: Foremost, he was preparing them to handle the soul-shaking revelation they were about to witness at their “graduation”—his coronation.
According to Acts 1, the disciples, along with 120 others, were about to experience firsthand the moment all authority in heaven and on earth would be bestowed on Jesus visibly, in perpetuity—the day he would be inaugurated before saints and angels as monarch over all, openly elevated by the Father to the everlasting 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.
Exalted on high, Jesus was fully glorified by the Father, just as he prayed in John 17 (NIV):
Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him . . . I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began . . . Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that years later the apostle John, one of those who stood on the Mount of Olives watching this royal processional unfold, reflected on its true significance by using very dramatic, apocalyptic language—because the literal, historical Ascension was an awesome drama! He wrote:
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? Well, it’s only a snapshot of what unfolded that day and its infinite implications for the nations as well as for all of us.
So then, help me understand this: 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 preaching and teaching? In our praising and praying? In our working and our witnessing? In our annual celebrations of all that Jesus has done for us?
Commemorating Christ’s 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 transaction—the crowning day for our King—get its own annual celebration as well? At least one day a year!
Yes, I know, technically Ascension Day remains noted 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 all of 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 of 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!
Therefore, we need to commemorate Christ’s ascending not only one of 365 days but also every other day of the year because the reality of our life in Jesus is as lofty as Ephesians 2 declares it to be.
“[God] made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions . . .
God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”
(NIV, emphasis added).
That’s Why for Years I’ve Called for
an “Ascension Reformation”
Yes, we need more attention on the Ascension. But more so, what we really need is an “Ascension Reformation”!
For sure, we also must earnestly confess with Paul: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6). That’s the essence of what the Protestant Reformation proclaimed 500 years ago. And the saving death of our Lord Jesus is as crucial a truth today as it was then.
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 are raised up with Christ to sit with him in the realms of heaven (as Ephesians 2 tells us). That means the sacred ceremony of baptism, with its confirmation of who we have become in Christ Jesus, finds its ratification in the Ascension. Notice how 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).
And so, I propose to you:
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 us to align our character and actions with Jesus. This has value.
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?
We need more attention on the Ascension.
We need an “Ascension Reformation”!
The Church must start hearing and embracing much more about how God’s abundant promises are activated and then fulfilled in substantial ways only by the sustained sovereignty of Jesus as Lord of all today—promises that are essential to effective, victorious, productive Christian living.
The Church must start focusing much more on the indispensable synergy between daily discipleship to Christ and the continuing dominion of Christ—the way Paul interfaced the two when he wrote in Ephesians 2:
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
(The Message, emphasis added).
For sure, we need more attention on the Ascension.
We need an “Ascension Reformation”!
The Church must face up to the spiritual debilitation we’re experiencing due to our long-term neglect of pursuing the ramifications of the day of Christ’s enthronement and its manifold aftermath in the unfolding of God’s plan for the ages, along with the place each of us has within 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-time 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 a preeminent theme in our seminars and sermons. Not the only theme, of course. But at least the hottest theme!
It must become the passion that shapes how we think and talk about everything else—in our daily walk with Jesus, in our life together as the people of Jesus, and in how we see the whole world subject to the reign of Jesus.
Don’t you agree?
Don’t we need more attention on the Ascension?
Don’t we need an “Ascension Reformation”?
The time for such an “Ascension Reformation” is long past due; it has dawned upon our generation with an urgency that must not be ignored. The future of the work of the gospel among earth’s people, including our own nation, requires a Church filled with believers who are filled with the Spirit and living in full view of our ascended Lord, adoring him in his ascended glory, as we share with him his ascended life.
How About Convening
a Convocation on the Ascension?
What would happen if a cross-section of Christian leaders convened for three days to explore comprehensively and deeply the broad ramifications of Christ’s coronation for Christian faith and obedience?
What if this convocation sought to hammer out the relationship of the dynamic facets of Christ’s supremacy to every major doctrine and dimension of Christian dogma and discipleship?
I firmly believe that just one such historic gathering could jump-start a modern-day reformation—a reformation with as far-ranging implications as the one that was so transformational five centuries ago.
It could spark a spiritual revolution throughout the Church fueled by the reclamation of a greater, grander, more glorious, more groundbreaking Christology.
It could launch a wholesale ignition of Christians’ passion for the person of Christ, through a fresh exaltation of the preeminence of Christ, based on a fuller embrace of the position of Christ.
Jesus has ascended! This glorious truth 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. We need to call for a “Convocation on the Coronation,” out of which we join hands in small ways and large ways, beginning right where we live, to foster a full-blown “Ascension Reformation.”
I’m ready to roll up my sleeves to help make this happen. Would you like to join me and others equally convinced across the nation to make it happen? ChristNowOnline exists to support such an undertaking and to support YOU in it. Write me and let me know what you think.
Experience Your Very Own
We don’t have to wait for a national gathering of Christian leaders to launch an “Ascension Reformation.”
You could gather a few friends together in your living room or at your church to share in an ascension celebration where you live.
Consider drawing from a very special ASCENSION CELEBRATION GUIDE, a really unique “order of service” created for and used by a congregation on the West Coast last year. Copy and distribute it to your group and work through it together, or just use parts of it to help you design your own approach.
If you can’t bring people together at the moment, you might incorporate parts of it at the family dinner table some evening. If there’s no one available to join you in the celebration, then use this guide for your own personal time of worship before the reigning Christ.
You’ll find this very creative and helpful ASCENSION CELEBRATION GUIDE here. Then sometime this month, write and tell me how it helped you.
Raise a Cheer for Jesus’ Triumphal Entry
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the day the Church celebrates as Palm Sunday, prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, remember how the people crowded around him applauding him and welcoming him?
If we combine the cheers they chanted (compiled from different Gospel accounts), we hear some shout, “Hosanna!”—which literally means “Lord, save us right now,” or to paraphrase, “Come and save us. We’re ready. We’re willing. Let it happen.” Also, they proclaimed, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” as well as “Blessed is the King of Israel” and “Don’t be afraid; your king is coming.”
It gives me chills to think that there was a day, like today is a day, when similar acclamations arose in heaven from myriads of saints and angels at the very moment Jesus was inaugurated as Supreme King and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Can you hear their chorus? Wouldn’t you like to join them?
All of heaven’s riches rest upon our King! You have saved us now and forever.
Blessed are you, Jesus Christ, because you have done all that was needed to fulfill for all of creation the designs of God for the glory of God.
No longer do we need to be afraid because you have taken your throne to rule in heaven and on earth.
And so your kingdom is moving victoriously into all the nations and into each of our hearts. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com.