I learned a lot of Bible stories during my Sunday School days. I knew the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus inside and out. But I learned little about the ascension of Jesus. It was generally treated as a “He rode off into the sunset” moment, as if Jesus disappeared from the story until His return in Revelation. What a travesty to have missed the magnificence and importance of this pivotal moment that is full of promise. Wrapped up in the few short accounts of Jesus’s departure from the earth are a handful of truths that shape the direction of all Christians.
First, Jesus promised not to leave His followers alone when He departed. In the same way that God promised the people of Israel that He would not leave or abandon them (Deuteronomy 31:6), Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you” (Acts 1:8). Yes, He was leaving, but the Holy Spirit was coming. And this was no consolation prize or fallback plan. It was the presence and power of God for all believers everywhere. Instead of His ministry being tied to His physical, human presence, it was now expanded to wherever His followers went. This is what He meant when he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). By ascending into heaven, Jesus exponentially increased His kingdom on earth.
Second, Jesus told His followers what their (and our) mission was: “Make disciples of all nations” (v.19). In Acts, He laid out the route they would take to fulfill this mission: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They were eyewitnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and now, “he was taken up as they were watching” (v.9). We, also, are witnesses to the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the Word across the centuries. We, too, have the Holy Spirit empowering us and directing us as disciple-makers, and we are the ends of the earth. So Christ’s mission marches on through the obedience and faithfulness of His Church.
Third, after ascending to heaven, Jesus is now interceding on behalf of all believers while He is “waiting until his enemies are made his footstool” (Hebrews 10:13). He is now our advocate and our Great High Priest in the presence of God until He returns in glory.
The ascension wasn’t the end of the story. It wasn’t a “happily ever after” or a ride into the sunset. It was the fuse for the explosion of Christ’s ministry across the globe and through the ages, the very ministry we are now part of.