Series: The Second Coming.
Part 1: A Watertight Guarantee, by Rosie Moore.
Sometime last year I bought a shiny new iron, but I’m sad to report that it’s already broken! Actually, broken appliances are a recurring theme in our house, as I always go for the cheapest one in the shop. You know the sayings, “You get what you pay for,” and “Penny wise-pound foolish!” That’s me, always looking for a bargain!
But the most irritating thing about a bargain is the small print. When you look closely at the box, you realize that the guarantee is only valid for one year and I’m always a month outside the warranty period. But come to think of it, most securities that the world offers are pretty flimsy and peppered with loopholes—Insurance, medical aid, investments, the weather report, Covid vaccines. They never quite deliver as expected.
In contrast, the real, bodily ascension of Christ in around 33AD, in full sight of credible witnesses, is a guarantee without loopholes. It is a watertight pledge that Christ will return to earth to take his people to our eternal home—a home where He rules as uncontested King, where there will be no sin, no sorrow, no sickness and no death.
Luke describes Christ’s glorious ascension:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11; Luke 24:50-53).
When we celebrated Ascension day on 26th May 2022, Christians remembered one of Jesus’s crucial works of redemption. The Ascension confirms that Christ’s work on the cross is done and it also anticipates the Second Coming as the pinnacle of redemption. Old Testament believers understood this as the great “Day of the Lord.”
There are no doubts, no time prescriptions, no conditions, no ifs and buts, no limitations and no indemnification clauses in the promise that the angels gave in verse 11! Jesus himself promised to return and take us to the home that He has prepared for us (John 14:1-3). So, if Christ is not a liar nor a lunatic, He is the King who will come back in the same way that He ascended into heaven. He guaranteed it!
We affirm the significance of the Ascension every time we say the Apostles’ Creed, “He ascended into heaven, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
“But why”, you may ask, “did Jesus not just slip away quietly like he did many other times? Why this spectacular departure?” Let’s look at why the Ascension matters.
- Climactic coronation.
Christ’s Ascension into heaven is the climax of everything that Jesus announced about God’s Kingdom coming to earth (Luke 4:17-21, 43; 8:1). In many ways, the Ascension is Christ’s coronation as King. In full view of his disciples, Jesus literally ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The Bible tells us what this means:
The seated Christ indicates that He has finished his work of atonement and is now taking His place as ruler of the Church and the cosmic King of the universe, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21-22).
Tim Keller explains that the Ascension is like an outline of what is happening in the spiritual realm, “It is a new enthronement for Jesus, ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world… Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”
Notice the impact of this final miracle on the disciples who witnessed it. Instantly they worshipped Jesus, not as a man or a friend, but as their King, praising God as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:52-53).
As doubtful, blind and fearful as the disciples had been, the Ascension marked a turning point. It triggered the unleashing of the Holy Spirit and convinced the disciples to align themselves with the true King of the universe, above the Jewish authorities and the Emperor of Rome. The Lord Jesus, who had burst out of the tomb just 40 days beforehand, had given them a sure guarantee of his return as King.
Hearing the angels’ promise and seeing their glorified Saviour’s body rise into the sky gave the disciples confidence to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, even though it cost them their lives. No wonder they gazed into the heavens in amazement! Clearly, this was no hallucination or out-of-body experience. Luke the physician records it as historical fact.
The impact on the eyewitnesses was revolutionary and transformational. A short while later we see Peter (the cowardly denier of Christ) proclaiming the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as inseparable chapters in the gospel story (Acts 2:22-36). Peter does not leave out the ascension, but views it as proof that Christ is God’s long awaited King, in David’s line!
This is Peter’s bold conclusion on the Day of Pentecost:
“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).
Moreover, in his letters, the down-to-earth fisherman is utterly convinced that the ascended Christ is God’s promised King who will wind up human history and restore the new heavens and new earth:
“ For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16).
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)
Everything that Peter believed about the Second Coming and the new creation was firmly rooted in, and guaranteed by, the Ascension of Christ, which he personally witnessed.
If it weren’t for the Ascension of Christ, the wheels of Christianity would have surely fallen off shortly after 33AD. Jesus would have been just another wannabe messiah who was taken down by the power of Rome. But because the momentous event witnessed by the disciples was true, nothing could stop the the gospel spreading like wildfire.
- Unleashing the Holy Spirit.
Here’s what I love most in Luke’s account: “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?!” (Acts 1:11). It’s such a common sense question for such a surreal setting! The two angels order the disciples to get their heads out the clouds and back to earth, “Now’s no time for standing around and staring into space. It’s time to get on with your King’s mission!”
As soon as Christ leaves earth and ascends to heaven, the Holy Spirit launches the Gospel into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the earth, just as Jesus promised. Jesus’s departure ushers in the age of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when the Holy Spirit is unleashed, Jesus is no longer limited by time and place as He was in his earthly body. That’s exactly what we see on the day of Pentecost and throughout the book of Acts.
Jesus promised that the gospel will continue to be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, “throughout the world, as a testimony to all nations” (Matt 24:14). And so, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with every generation of the church until the harvest is gathered in and the great commission is complete (Matt 28:20).
After the Ascension, the Holy Spirit transformed these disciples from cowards into courageous men. Faith overcame their fear, as they grounded their entire lives on the fact that Christ was the cosmic king who would return. If we are believers, we too are Spirit-filled witnesses, “to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations”, until our King returns (Luke 24:47-48). What a blessing to have a mission beyond ourselves!
Actually, without Christ’s Ascension, Christians would have no purpose beyond ourselves in this world. We would be aimless wanderers on this planet. But because Jesus has ascended to his heavenly throne, his followers are part of a Kingdom much bigger than ourselves or our nation states (Acts 1:9). That is what the disciples saw as they looked up into the sky. Christ has given every believer a mission. We are the royal priesthood of believers.
- Our great guarantee.
No matter how much death and disease, turbulence, hatred and division we are experiencing in our world right now, Christ’s Ascension is a watertight guarantee. Not only has Christ pledged that He will return in glory to take his people home, but even now, his Ascension secures us a heavenly High Priest who always has the ear of God.
And because Christ ascended to heaven, we have the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our Saviour’s presence that defies all barriers of space and time. It was Christ the ascended King that Stephen glimpsed when he, filled with the Holy Spirit, faced his executioners:
“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).”
Stephen saw Jesus standing, not sitting!
So too, for every believer, the ascended Jesus is an active Mediator who pleads our case before God and prays for us when we face troubles in this world (John 17:20; 24; 26). He defends us against Satan’s accusations when we sin and He reassures us of God’s unfailing love for us (1 John 2:1; Rom 8:34).
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).
That is the watertight guarantee of Christ’s ascension.
Lord, make your ascension real for us, so we may see you as our King and active Advocate in heaven. Thank you that you have pledged to return to gather your people from the four corners of the earth and take us to our eternal home. We long eagerly and expectantly for that wonderful day of redemption! Thank you that our enemies are also your enemies, and that you will put all those enemies under your feet before you return. May your Spirit assure us of your strength, love and presence at all times, especially when our hearts are troubled. Amen.
Join us for the next few weeks as we look at “The Second Coming of Christ.” The devotions will be rooted in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 12.
Part 1: A Watertight Guarantee.
Part 2: As in the days of Noah (Matt 24:36-44)
Part 3: The Midnight Cry (Matt 25:1-24)
Part 4: The Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46)
Part 5: Prepared for the Second Coming (Luke 12)