Three benefits of Christ’s ascension are outlined for us in question and answer 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Yesterday we discussed the benefit of Jesus as our Advocate in God’s presence, which is the first blessing the catechism describes. The second benefit is that our Lord’s flesh in heaven is a “sure pledge” that He, as our Head, will take us to heaven. We are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–31), and our Savior will not be without His body. Our deaths do not mean that Christ suffers the loss of one of His bodily members. Instead, death is a transition for us — our souls do not cease to exist or become unconscious, but they remain united to Jesus and enjoy His blessed presence (John 17:24; Phil. 1:23). We remain ever with our Head, and His ascension to heaven at the conclusion of His ministry is an assurance that we, too, will enter heaven when we die if we trust in Christ alone.
Jesus’ ascension benefits us in a third way, according to the catechism: in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One of the proof texts for this teaching is today’s passage, which is part of the last major discourse our Lord delivered to His disciples before His crucifixion. Knowing that His impending departure would be hard for His followers, Jesus promised that His leaving would not be the end of His presence with them. Instead, His ascension would provide the opportunity for the Father to send “another Helper.” The Greek word translated as “Helper” is paraklētos, which is the same term translated as “Advocate” in 1 John 2:1. The first “Helper,” or “Advocate,” is Christ, and the second, or “another,” is the Holy Spirit. This similarity in terms tells us that the Son and the Spirit are united in their work of assisting and advocating for the people of God. Jesus intercedes for us in heaven, pleading His blood for our forgiveness (1 John 2:1). The Spirit intercedes for us and with us as we pray on earth, fulfilling what we lack in our prayers so that the things we should be praying for are not forgotten (Rom. 8:26).
He is also the “Spirit of truth” whom the world cannot receive but who enables the people of God to receive the life-giving truth of the Word of God (v. 17a). Only the Spirit opens our hearts and minds to believe the gospel, and He illumines the Word so that we might be conformed to the image of Christ as we study and apply Scripture.
Christ has ascended to heaven and has poured out the Holy Spirit to equip us for ministry, pray for us, and convince us of the truth of God’s Word. This work is necessary for us, and without the Spirit’s ministry, we would remain in error and far from the kingdom of God. John Calvin comments, “Until we have been inwardly instructed by [the Spirit], the understandings of all of us are seized with vanity and falsehood.”