The Ascension of Christ
“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” (v. 11).- Acts 1:6–11
The gospel tells us we can be reconciled to God only if we trust in Christ, the King of God’s blessed kingdom. We must, therefore, understand who Jesus is and what He has done. The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the person and work of Christ, and we are examining the creed’s biblical basis as we make our way through the Heidelberg Catechism. Question and answer 46 of the catechism discuss Christ’s ascension, an event the contemporary evangelical church largely ignores.
The church must not neglect this significant event. In the first place, it reveals the nature of Jesus’ return at the end of the age. The catechism notes that the phrase “he ascended into heaven” in the Apostles’ Creed means that Christ was taken from earth into heaven before the eyes of the Apostles. Jesus’ ascension into heaven was not merely an invisible move of His soul, but an upward movement of His body and soul that the Apostles could see. Acts 1:9 says, “A cloud took [Jesus] out of [the disciples’] sight.” Jesus was physically present with His followers, but a cloud raised Him into the sky and on into heaven.
Jesus ascended visibly; thus, He will return visibly when He comes in final judgment. After all, the angels told the disciples that Christ would return just as He ascended (v. 11). People will see Jesus physically because He will come again bodily (1 Thess. 4:16). He will return in a cloud of glory, the same cloud that indicated God’s presence under the old covenant (Ex. 13:21; Lev. 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10–11).
In Matthew 24:1–31, Jesus anticipates His ascension. Many people believe Jesus predicted His final return to judge creation when He quoted Daniel 7:13–14 in Matthew 24:30. But as John Calvin and other scholars have noted, Daniel 7 refers not to the Son of Man’s descent from heaven but to His entrance into heaven to receive His kingdom. Matthew 24:1–31 does not predict the end of the world. It foresees events associated with Jesus’ enthronement as King of kings and Lord of lords, events that culminated in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. The ascension of Christ recorded in Acts 1:6–11 is one of these events, the Son of Man coming to receive His kingdom as foreseen in Daniel 7:13–14 and Matthew 24:30 (Keith A. Mathison, From Age to Age, pp. 358–359, 377, 461).
Jesus is indeed coming from heaven at the end of the age to consummate His plan and bring a new heaven and earth (Rev. 21). But He is not coming back to establish His kingdom and take His throne, for as Matthew 24:1–31 and Acts 1:6–11 inform us, Christ took this throne when He ascended on high and judged the city of Jerusalem in the first century. Jesus is reigning now, and because He is king, we can serve Him in confidence of His final victory.
Passages for Further Study