Over the past year, it seems as if the world as we know it became undone right before our very eyes. A global pandemic has drastically and dramatically altered everything about our lives. It has isolated us from one another. It has crippled the economy. It has brought governments to their knees. Although we knew it in our hearts before, this crisis has forcefully reminded us that the world is not as it should be, that the things of this world cannot be our security, and that this world as it is ultimately is not our home.
Yet, even as the world free falls into chaos, we are not without hope. In Christ Jesus we always have good news. The good news of Jesus’ death is that we are forgiven and cleansed from our sin, making us whole and right before the Father. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is that we have the promise of eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth, where all the sad things of the world come untrue.
But what about now? What about this present time in between Jesus’ resurrection and ours, while the earth gives way and the mountains be moved into the heart of the seas? This is where the good news of Jesus’ ascension comes in. This oft-overlooked event of Jesus’ ministry is essential to comprehending his ongoing mission to his people and our enduring hope in his glory.
At the end of his gospel (Luke 24:50–53) and at the beginning of the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–11), Luke records that forty days after Jesus was raised from the dead with his new resurrected body, he ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God the Father (1 Peter 3:22). This event signifies Jesus’ rightful exaltation and enthronement as King over the universe. And although God has always been sovereign over his creation (Psalm 24:1), the ascension of Jesus means that all those who have put their faith in him may also participate in the glorious reign of the risen King—the one who is fully God and fully human, in whom heaven and earth are being reconciled (Colossians 1:19–20).
But if Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, exactly how do we experience the first fruits of the resurrected life found in Christ Jesus? It is important to realize that ascension does not mean that Jesus vanished in the heavens, abandoning us here on earth (John 14:18). Having been given authority as King over the heavens and the earth, Jesus promised his disciples that he would always be with them (Matthew 28:20). In fact, he tells his disciples it is to their advantage that he goes to the Father, in order that the Holy Spirit may come to us (John 16:7), giving us access to his presence always.
This is where the day of Pentecost comes in, which occurred fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after his ascension (Acts 2). Pentecost refers to the long-awaited day (Isaiah 32:15; Joel 2:28–32) when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church. What this means for the Church is that through the Spirit we have full access to the ascended King, that we are transformed into the Living Temple in whom the presence of God is manifest, and that we are empowered to live out the Kingdom of God in this world as pilgrims in a strange land awaiting our Heavenly country to come.
Therefore, because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, he is exalted as King over the world and has empowered us to reign with him through his Spirit.
So, what do the ascension and Pentecost specifically mean for us today, especially in the midst of this current crisis?
- Jesus is King, and he is in control—While it appears that the world is collapsing beneath us, we can take heart that God is fully in control of every aspect of our life today. This does not mean we will not face difficulty or trial for this is not our home yet; but it does mean that in this world we can find our refuge in him who is the true and faithful King. Therefore, we need not fear but can joyfully trust that he is working all things together for his glory and for our good (Romans 8:28).
- Jesus is with you and for you—For many, if not all, we are facing an unprecedented event that is demanding much of us at every level. We will struggle with doubt and fear. We will fall short. But thankfully, we have a King who knows exactly all that we are going through (Hebrews 4:15); a King who, after defeating death, is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1); a King who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). In other words, at every moment the ascended King is faithfully and constantly praying for you and me, giving us his strength, his comfort, and his presence through his Spirit.
Since Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and given us his Spirit, we have a King to celebrate, who grants us a living hope in this life as we await the life to come. Therefore, no matter what you are going through today, take heart that Jesus is King and has overcome the world (John 16:33)—he has gone before you and goes with you because he loves you.
Graham Michael is an academic tutor for the BibleMesh Institute and chairs the history department at St. David’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina.