The Ascension – Acts 1: 9
By: Alistair Brown
(Part 7 in a series on Acts 1.)
Near the beginning of Acts, Luke referred to Jesus being taken up to heaven after he had finished instructing the apostles (Acts 1:2). Now, in verse 9, he gives a short and matter-of-fact description of that moment.
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Luke uses very few words and gives no graphic descriptions, but the event – known down through the centuries as “the Ascension” – is hugely significant in Christian theology.
Therefore I decided to make use of the writings of one of Christian history’s most famous theologians, John Calvin. He lists three special points of significance about the Ascension of Jesus. Calvin lived in the 1500s, and was very influential in developing the movement called the Reformation. His most major work was called ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ which appeared in several editions and eventually ran to four separate books with seventy-nine chapters. The points I will cover all come from the Institutes, and describe what Calvin saw as our advantages from the ascension of Christ.
1. “The Lord, by his ascension to heaven, has opened up the access to the heavenly kingdom, which Adam had shut.”
Imagine ancient, medieval times. A good king has rebellious people. They reject his ruler-ship and kill any subjects who show loyalty to the king. He has no choice but to banish the rebels far from his presence. None of these people can now visit the king or have entrance into his palace.
However, after many years, one person from among those rebellious people emerges who is good. He fights for the king and though bleeding and wounded defeats the enemies of the king. Others align themselves behind this new hero, and they too declare themselves for the king. The king welcomes back the warrior who fought so bravely and at risk of his life. The hero is welcomed into the palace and the king’s presence, and a declaration is made that all who have aligned themselves behind the hero may also come. The palace doors are once again open to the people.
That story is far from theologically complete. It does not at all represent what has been done for us by Jesus. It makes only a simple point: that the admission of one means admission for all who belong with him.
Jesus’ ascension meant that someone fully human, as well as being fully divine, was admitted to heaven. Christ the man entered heaven. Because he did, then all those aligned with him, those surrendered to the living God, may enter also. Adam’s sin blocked access; Jesus’ righteousness and death for sin opened access again.
The Ascension shows that the door to heaven is open for men and women once more. Jesus’ admission to glory is our admission also.
2. “He intercedes for us with the Father.”
Calvin calls that a “great advantage to us.” He is thinking of Bible verses like Romans 8:33-34: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
One of life’s most miserable experiences is constantly failing to please others. We try our best but it’s never good enough. Critical people find so many ways to accuse us of falling short. The truth is our lives are often not good enough. We know it, and we give others plenty evidence to point out our failings.
But – Calvin points out – we now have someone in heaven who is on our side, one who speaks constantly to his heavenly Father for us. Jesus prays for us. He pours out his heart on our behalf to his heavenly Father. He speaks to God about his sacrifice on the cross which covers all our sins. He asks for strength for our lives for every situation. He anticipates our place in glory with him, and everything that’s needed for that to happen he brings before his Father.
You may have many friends or no friends, but you will never have anyone on your side quite like Jesus. Day by day he pleads our case before his Father. Because Jesus returned, we have an advocate in heaven.
3. “(The Ascension) discerns his power, on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell.”
That is old fashioned language but a strong and encouraging statement. Christ raised again to glory proves him to be the Son of God with power, power to triumph over all his enemies and power to bless us with everything we need.
Imagine another old scenario. A king’s land had been invaded by an evil empire and his people oppressed and made slaves to a tyrant. When the right time came, the king’s son went out to war against the invader. Overthrowing the enemy was a hard fight, and the final battle bloody and long, but the king’s son was victorious. The enemy was crushed, prisoners were taken and the king’s subjects set free. Now the son returns to his father with prisoners in tow and bringing the liberated people back to the king to enjoy his blessings.
Just an illustration. Yet it shows what Christ has done, defeating the enemy and setting God’s people free for a richer, God-filled life. That two part victory – conquering his enemies and blessing his redeemed people – is described in several New Testament verses.
“Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
Jesus defeated his enemies and now blesses his redeemed people with his righteousness, his strength, his presence, and ultimately with the gift of our final salvation and place in heaven. All the spiritual riches we enjoy come from his victory.
So, Jesus’ Ascension:
- Opened access for us into heaven
- Put him alongside the Father to speak on our behalf
- Shows his power over enemies, and his power to bless and help his people in their new lives
To see Jesus go – leaving this earth – could have been heartbreak for the apostles. They were devastated by his suffering and death on the cross, and then amazed and thrilled after the resurrection that he was alive again. Days, weeks were spent with Jesus as he taught about the kingdom. What a glorious time that was.
Yet, deep inside these disciples had to be the thought, “All of this is wonderful, Jesus, as long as you are with us.” Suddenly he is not. Again he is not. All their hopes had soared when the resurrection brought him back to them. But no more. Now he is taken up to heaven and he will not reappear after three days. He is really gone. It was the end.
It was not the end. Unseen to them a wonderful thing had happened as he returned to his Father, opening up heaven for men and women, praying constantly for us, and blessing us with strength for every day.
And, in any case, these Christians were not deserted. He’d promised them power, the power of the Holy Spirit, and very soon they would sense his presence again, and in new strength go forward with the mission entrusted to them.
The moment of Jesus’ return to heaven looked dreadful. The truth was very different. It was actually the beginning of the best of times.
 All quotes come from Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion. 2.16.16.
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Picardy, France, and died fifty-five years later. He was undoubtedly the chief figure of what might be called phase two of the Reformation. ‘The Reformation’ is the title given to the change in the church which began around 1517 and is greatly associated with Martin Luther. Until that time almost all the church in the western world was Roman Catholic. Luther wanted to see the church reformed (hence the word “Reformation”), and came to realize that salvation could not be given by the church nor could forgiveness of sins be had through the purchase of indulgences, but would come solely by faith in Christ.
His views started a major upset, and he was eventually removed from the Catholic Church, but the ‘protest’ – Protestantism – had begun.
John Calvin became involved from the 1530s. He was a very well-educated young man with a keen mind. His first book was published when he was only twenty-two, but his most lasting literary work was a slim volume of six chapters under the title: Institutes of the Christian Religion. He was almost unknown when the Institutes were published, but gradually his work became popular and Calvin held significant roles in cities like Strasbourg and Geneva, helping the Reformation along. He wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible and they were read widely. He preached every day of alternate weeks, and his sermons were taken down in shorthand and later published. Calvin became immensely significant.
But it was the Institutes which were most influential, and he revised them five times. By the last edition of 1559 the Institutes had grown to four separate books with a total of seventy-nine chapters. It was translated into other languages, and became the main theological guideline of Reformed churches other than where Lutheranism was based.
 “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Rom. 5:17)