What If Jesus Had Never Sat Down on Heaven’s Throne?
HE WENT UP ON HIGH!
Part One of a Seven-Part Series on the Ascension of Christ
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Those who have sat under David Bryant’s teachings on the supremacy of Christ in the past 20 years know he despairs over how little Christians know about, or even care about, the Ascension. As he reasons in today’s blog, it may not only be the most neglected doctrine in the Church, but also the most important doctrine for the Church. It is all about who Christ is and what he is doing right now. A six-part series, which starts today, will unpack David’s thinking about the coronation of God’s Son and its impact on every believer’s daily walk with their Redeemer King.]
Thursday, May 25, is labeled on this year’s liturgical calendar as “Ascension Day,” coming forty days after Easter, to mark the moment when God’s Son “went up on high” to take his place of supremacy in all things (Colossians 1) and reign as Lord of heaven and earth.
But sadly, this glorious occasion will come and go in 2017 largely unnoticed, just as it has for a majority of Christians worldwide for most of Church history.
To counter our collective amnesia, therefore, I want to reflect in a six-part series of blog posts on what happened, why it happened, and how it anchors the hope we have in Christ for us all.
Why Is This the Most Crucial Doctrine of All?
In many ways the Ascension may be the most crucial yet most neglected doctrine in the whole panoply of Biblical teachings. How utterly unfortunate this is!
Consider: Christmas celebrates Jesus’ incarnation. Good Friday remembers his crucifixion. Easter trumpets his resurrection. But how many congregations ever set aside even one Sunday a year, anytime in the Church calendar, to proclaim the coronation of God’s Son—the actual day he was welcomed to God’s throne?
And yet, if there had been no Ascension—if there had not been a day, like today is a day, when the Father invited his Son to sit at his right hand—what would we have left?
Consider the consequences had there not been a moment, when in so many words the Father announced to his Son an affirmation like this, as it were:
All you have accomplished for my people—your incarnation; your life of righteousness; your teachings and healings; your atoning sacrifice; and your definitive disabling of death—are totally sufficient. You have fulfilled all that’s needed for the reclamation of the universe.
So come up on high, my Son! Take the crown and its glory. The whole creation is yours. Begin to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, forever and ever.
Is it not evident that, despite the Resurrection, if there had been no Ascension we would be lost? If the Father had not been fully satisfied with all his Son did for us wouldn’t it all be rendered null and void? Would we not be forever undone, without help and without hope, if Jesus had not entered heaven on our behalf, celebrated with hymns of victory?
If Christ had not ascended for us, where else could we go to find the Father’s welcoming arms? There would be no high priest to represent us and intercede for us at the throne. We would be stripped of free, clean access into God’s presence. There would be no one preparing a home for our eternal dwelling. Our lives, as well as the whole universe, would be without a mediator to symphonize all things with the will of God.
Pentecost would have been permanently postponed, and so believers would remain forever devoid of the Spirit’s indwelling power. The promises meant to be Jesus’ inheritance, to be shared with all who belong to him, would be locked up and shelved. Above all, Jesus’ very best gift, his saving efforts for us, would be stuck in the past, as it were—where he was last seen, visiting with disciples after exiting the tomb, but left at the fringes of history.
The Kingdom of This World Has Become the Kingdom of Messiah—Already!
But Jesus has ascended! Not passively, but actively—“he went up” (Acts 1)! Forty days after he crashed through the tomb, he sat down on the Divine Dais, the dominant furniture in the universe. He has been exalted above every name in this age and the age to come. In Revelation 11 (NIV), John wrote that he heard heaven sing:
The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.
Therefore, we are saved. Right now Christians everywhere share in the “ascended life” of the “Ascended One”—as we will ten thousand years from now and forever.
Bishop N. T. Wright gives the wonder of the Ascension rich, historical perspective by contrasting it with first-century myths about Roman emperors. In Simply Jesus, the Biblical scholar writes:
Anyone familiar with the world of the early Roman Empire would realize what was happening. After the death of Julius Caesar, people swore they had seen his soul ascending to heaven. Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son, promptly declared that Julius was therefore a god; which meant that he, Augustus, was now ‘son of god’ . . . When Augustus himself died the process was repeated, as it was with many (though not all) of his successors.
The parallel is sufficiently close to make any readers in the Roman world realize what is going on. Jesus is radically upstaging Caesar. Actually, if we think of the [Ascension] as the opening frame of the book of Acts, we get the point, because the closing frame is Paul in Rome, under Caesar’s nose, announcing God as king and Jesus as Lord . . .
The strange paradox [is] Paul in chains announcing that the Roman world has a new emperor. [It] sets the tone for all kingdom work in the present time (emphasis added).
Amazing as it seems, the early disciples took on a mission to proclaim Christ not only as Redeemer but also as Conqueror and Ruler of all—per Bishop Wright, as the only legitimate Caesar. One might title him the Cosmic Caesar.
In point of fact, until the end of the first millennium, many congregations placed graphics portraying the Ascension in the dome of their church buildings. It was their way of reminding members, each time they gathered, that they convened in the presence of the reigning Christ.
Here’s Why the Early Church Was So Vibrant
We should not be surprised what the most frequently quoted or referenced Old Testament passage is. Verses from this portion of Scripture are found in Jesus’ teachings, in Acts, in the Revelation, and in almost every epistle.
It is Psalm 110.
Obviously, early Christians identified this text as the most helpful in interpreting what was happening before their very eyes, and why they thrived the way they did, as the gospel spread convincingly across the empire.
Better than any other portion of the Hebrew scrolls, Psalm 110 explained the source of their spiritual power and fruitfulness. They were convinced the wonders that God was performing all around them in Jesus’ name flowed out of and pointed toward his Ascension, as this had been dramatically predicted in this psalm:
The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110, NIV).
King David’s themes are just as true for us today as they were for New Testament believers.
Note if you will: (1) The Messiah sits down at God’s right hand; (2) he extends his scepter, making even enemies his subjects; (3) his holy followers volunteer to join him in his kingdom’s advance; (4) he reigns for them by assuming the role of God’s King-Priest.
Crown Him With Many Crowns Every Day Because You Are Alive in Him
Jesus’ coronation began the day God invited him to take Heaven’s throne. At that moment, the saints in glory, represented in Revelation 5 by twenty-four elders, began casting garlands before him.
This “crowning ceremony” has not abated; heaven still celebrates his enthronement to this very moment.
These festivities are slated to continue until they climax in that hour when, according to Revelation 19, Christ appears openly with legions of the faithful. Then, instead of diadems resting at his feet, many crowns, John reports, will encircle his head, as our exalted Champion rides forth in victory.
In the next five blog posts of this series, I want to explore various facets of Jesus’ ascension and what this means for his role in our lives as the Sovereign of our salvation.
My hope is that on May 25 you will be able to make Ascension Day 2017 a watershed date in your walk with Jesus. Once and for all, as you read these blog posts, may you be compelled not only to crown him with every crown you have to give him but also to commit yourself as never before to live in him and with him and for him in keeping with the reality Colossians 3 shows us (from the Message):
Pursue the things over which Christ presides.
Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground,
absorbed with the things right in front of you.
Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—
that’s where the action is.
See things from his perspective.
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 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 book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.