Ascension—Nothing Was the Same Anymore!

Norbert Lieth

Jesus’ Ascension has a more profound meaning in view of biblical prophecy, and for our lives, than it seems at first glance.

There’s hardly a church holiday as rarely observed as Ascension Day. It’s so meaningless these days that in some parts of Europe, it has turned into Father’s or Men’s Day. Observances include men wandering through the countryside pulling a wagon with a bottle in hand, singing songs with friends. It’s a complete distraction from the reality of the holiday.

Has the devil managed to distract people from the Ascension and pervert this day, because it has such colossal meaning and contains such powerful revelations? Let’s look into some of them.

Jesus’ Ascension Touches Deeper
The Gospel of John tells of a remarkable episode after the Lord’s resurrection, when Mary Magdalene met Him: “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).

Why wasn’t Mary permitted to touch the Lord? This seems contradictory when we think of the women who embraced Jesus’ feet (Matt 28:9), or Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus’ wounds (John 20:27). So, why did the Lord forbid Mary?

The expression, “Touch me not” can also be translated, “Stop touching me.” That’s why other translations say, “Don’t cling to me” or, “Do not hold onto me.” In Mary’s case, it wasn’t a matter of just a touch.

The problem was that she wanted to keep the Lord on earth, as Messiah for the earth. For all intents and purposes, she wanted to bind Jesus and His kingdom to earth. What had been hinted at and proclaimed so often, but not yet come true, had finally arrived. In this sense, she was clinging to His messianic kingdom in Israel, but the Lord didn’t want that. He wanted to ascend to God the Father to be with Him, since there would now be much more than “just” the earthly messianic kingdom.

Now it was a matter of more than just the kingdom. Taking this into consideration, some things even needed to be put on standby, or on hold. First, the Lord had to sit at God’s right hand, with His enemies under His feet (Ps 110). And so, after the Ascension, nothing was the same anymore: The Holy Spirit was poured out. The Church was formed and expanded, and non-Jews were allowed in. It became a body of Christ made up of Jews and Gentiles. Paul was called to be an apostle to the nations, and his Gospel contained much wider and deeper revelations.

As the Lord said to Mary Magdalene, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” As a result of His Ascension, Jesus would bring believers into the status of sons and daughters of the Father. A whole new relationship would come about.

With the statement, “to my God,” the Lord Jesus wasn’t denying His own Godhead, but emphasizing that He was fully human. He would return to heaven and to the Father as something that He had not been before; namely, a human being. And as this man, he would be able to represent humanity and all who believe in Him before God. As the Son of Man, God the Father is His God; as the Son of God, He is Himself God.

There’s something we can learn from the Lord’s apparently negative reaction to Mary Magdalene: When we feel like God is disappointing us, He is often preparing something deeper and more glorious for us. Jim Elliot knew, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Jesus’ Ascension Permanently Opens the Door to Heaven
“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven…” (Rev 4:1).

We’re all familiar with the image of Peter standing at heaven’s gate like a porter with his keys, granting or denying people entry based on their deeds in life. But this doesn’t at all correspond to the biblical truth.

Jesus opened the door to heaven for everyone, once and for all.

Before Jesus had completed the work of redemption on Calvary, the heavens sometimes opened on certain occasions, only to be closed again afterward. For example, the prophet Ezekiel said, “Now it came to pass … as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezek 1:1). 

It is evident that the heavens closed after the events of Matthew 3:16, and were reopened later: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.”

It was only after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, that the door remained open for good behind Him. Now heaven has been made accessible to all, once and for all. The door that John saw in Revelation didn’t open; it was open already. Stephen testified to the same when he was killed: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

This was something completely new. Non-Jewish people are able to gain access to God without Israel’s mediation. The Gentiles no longer have to become proselytes. The opened heaven means that everyone can come, and nobody is locked out. The way to God is unrestricted, but only through Jesus.

For years, my wife and I have been invited to use a vacation home in the beautiful Swiss mountains, located at around 2,000 meters (about 6,500 feet), with a wonderful view. The owner even gave us our own key. We could just drive up there and move in for the summer, since the owner is away then. But due to various circumstances, we haven’t yet been able to take advantage of the offer. It’s up to us, and if we don’t take him up on his invitation soon, it might be too late.

Jesus’ Ascension Took Captives Captive
“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive [alt. took the captives captive], and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Eph 4:8-10).

Before Jesus died, Satan had power over the realm of the dead (Heb 2:14)—Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament. He had power in the sense that he could command death. Satan commands death and the realm of the dead for every person, because every person is a sinner. It seems that the realm of the dead is divided into two areas: the place where the wicked are kept, and the place that is called “Abraham’s bosom” for those who belong to God (Luke 16), since Paradise was closed and inaccessible.

When Jesus died on the Cross, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. This symbolizes, among other things, that lost Paradise is accessible again. That is why the Lord no longer speaks of Abraham’s bosom but of Paradise, the place of God’s heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 12:4). With respect to His redeeming death, Jesus told the criminal being crucified next to Him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). But this phrase can also mean, “Truly, I tell you today: With me you will be in paradise.”

Jesus was the firstfruits to rise from the dead in this way. When he addressed the crowds on Pentecost, Peter said of Jesus, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24).

When Jesus rose from the dead, many other saints were also raised and appeared to many in Jerusalem (Matt 27:52-53). What does that mean? After His death on the Cross, the Lord descended into the realm of the dead, where death had to give Him the key. That’s why, when He encountered John in His glory, He told him, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev 1:18).

Upon His Ascension into heaven, the Lord took the dead from Abraham’s bosom (the Old Testament believers), the crucified criminal who had sought him, and the saints who were raised after His resurrection into heaven. That is the deliverance of death’s prisoners. Since that act of liberation, the abode of every believer who has fallen asleep has been marked “with Christ” or “in Christ” (Phil 1:23; 1 Thess 4:16). They are in the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col 1:13), in God’s heavenly Paradise where Christ is (2 Cor 12:4). At the Resurrection or the Rapture, they are then led to the throne room, to the Most High God where Christ is their head (Eph 2:6).

Here is a good place to ask the question: Are you already a captive of the Lord, or are you still a prisoner of the devil, of sin and death, of hopelessness and despair?

Martin Luther once said, “Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.”

Jesus’ Ascension Gave Gifts to the People
“When he ascended up on high, he … gave gifts unto men” (Eph 4:8).

Ten days after the Ascension, the feast of Pentecost took place, when the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out. As the Church developed, everyone who belonged to it received spiritual gifts.

The feast of Pentecost is identical to the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament (Shavuot). It was celebrated 50 days, or 7 weeks, after Passover (Lev 23:15-22). A new grain offering was to be offered that day, consisting of two loaves of leavened bread.

Something completely new happened at Pentecost. The two leavened loaves symbolize the Jewish and Gentile parts of the community. The leaven indicates that sinners will be saved and become a Church of God. In the Church, there are both spiritual and natural gifts, and they all serve to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12). Paul speaks of apostles and prophets (who were the foundation of the church: Eph 2:20), pastors, teachers, and evangelists (Eph 4:11). Various believers can have gifts, for example, of service (deacons), admonishment, leadership, showing mercy, sharing love, music, and much more (cf. Rom 12:7-8).

Are we also using our gifts for heaven? “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2).

Jesus’ Ascension Reveals His Triumph Over Israel
The concept that Paul is applying to the Church in Ephesians 4, originally comes from Psalm 68: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them” (Ps 68:18).

The Holy Spirit omits the words, “thou hast received gifts,” “for the rebellious,” and “that the LORD God might dwell among them” when speaking through Paul. I think this makes sense. Although we can apply the Psalm’s statement to the Church spiritually, it initially applies to Israel. That’s why Paul doesn’t mention certain phrases when relating it to the body of Christ on earth, for they address precisely what will be fulfilled at Jesus’ return. The Lord will redeem all of Israel and receive it as a gift. Israel—which had been rebellious until then—will surrender to Him, and He will take up residence with His people.

This is when Isaiah 53:12 will be fulfilled: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” 

It says in Revelation, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:3).

Interestingly, Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide once said, “If the Messiah comes and then turns out to be Jesus of Nazareth, I would say that I do not know of any Jew in this world who would have anything against it.”

Jesus’ Ascension Reveals His Return
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

This means He will return in a cloud and eyes will behold Him. Therefore, Israel must be present as a nation again, with Jerusalem as its capital. He will come to the Mount of Olives, and a believing remnant will await Him. Unbelieving Israel will also see Him, as Zechariah prophesied (Zech 12:10).

Seventy-six years ago, the message went around the world: “The State of Israel is born.” It could scarcely be believed after 1,900 years. With the existence of this State, the groundwork is laid for Jesus’ return and the completion of the age.

Jesus’ Ascension Is the Power Behind His Church’s Ascension
“For our conversation {citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).

Our home is where Jesus has gone ahead of us. Our citizenship is recorded there, and our dwelling is located there. Our rights are established there. We are under the protection of our current government, but also that of this heavenly homeland. We’re awaiting our Lord from here, and He will bring us to that heavenly home. He doesn’t send an angel to do it, but comes Himself. And, just as a child waits for his father to pick him up, or a bride awaits her groom, so the Church awaits its Lord.

My wife and I care for two ponies. They are very attentive when it’s time to muck out the stables and feed them. They hear us coming without seeing us, and stand at the gate neighing expectantly.

William MacDonald writes about Philippians 3:20, “Eagerly wait for is strong language (in the original) to express the earnest expectation of something believed to be imminent. It means literally to thrust forward the head and neck as in anxious expectation of hearing or seeing something.”

May we be among those who eagerly wait and who anchor their homes in heaven!

Midnight Call - 05/2024

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