What Did the Ascension Accomplish?

May 16th, 2010 Apostle’s Creed Series 05 Ascension Sunday Ephesians 4:7-10   

7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) [1]

I preached a sermon a month ago about what we mean when we confess in the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus descended into hell. Basically, it is a theological statement and not a geographic mapping of his location. Jesus stayed on the cross and God brought to Jesus the terrible suffering of eternal hell that we deserved while He hung between heaven and earth.

Jesus never traveled to hell that He might suffer alongside demons or the enemies of God. Jesus descended from heaven as the most blessed one and He became the most cursed one while on the cross. Jesus hit rock bottom while paying our sin debt and we owe Him everything for this gift of redemption that opens the door for our salvation.

The Bible refers to the descent and ascent of God in Genesis to Revelation. From common language about God coming down to see the tower of Babel to specific verses about ascension, the Bible is strung with the gold thread of the descent and ascent of Deity into the affairs of men. Specifically, the Bible tells about the advent of the Son of God.

Jesus was in the glorious fullness of the form of God as the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the light of heaven. Jesus was the center of everyone’s attention. As the Bible says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

But Jesus decided that holding onto this most exalted place wasn’t worth grasping with white knuckles. So He cloaked His deity with human flesh and took the form of a man.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus descended to earth, but not to be an earthly king. Some people live glorious lives. There are beautiful people, powerful and wealthy people that make others jealous. Jesus didn’t come to claim that kind of a life for Himself. Jesus had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)

Verse 9 says that Jesus descended into the lower parts of the human experience. John Calvin in his commentary explains that the descent of Jesus into the lower parts of the earth is not about the dirt, the grave, Hades, or purgatory. Any of these interpretations are, and I quote, “exceedingly foolish.”

Rather, Jesus descended into the more humiliating experiences of life. Jesus was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

But these verses in Ephesians are not just about Jesus’ descent. The descent is paired with the opposite. Like a left and right, or an up and down. This comparison is an infinite opposite. It is like comparing East and West. Paul is saying that as far as the East is from the West, so is the extreme difference between the descent and the ascent of Jesus.

Just as Jesus descended deeper and deeper into our brokenness, so now Jesus has ascended above the heavens to reclaim His glorious splendor. He descended to take our misery for Himself, and He ascends to claim His glory for His people.

There are spiritual laws at work to bring Christ back up. If I drop a rag on the floor it just lies there. But if I drop a ball then there are forces at work to bounce it back up.

We say, “what goes up must come down.” God the Father says, “what went down must come up.”

Jesus was slandered as an illegitimate child, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It is only right that His reputation would come back up. Jesus was oppressed by sinful men so now  Jesus is lifted over those same sinners as their judge. Jesus willingly left His rightful place in heaven to serve the will of the Father. It is only right that He be restored to at least His former glory.

In fact, the justice of God demands that Jesus be lifted up. Innocent blood calls out. Better than the blood of Able which called for retribution on Cain, the blood of Jesus calls for vindication and glorification for Himself AND then salvation for His people.

Do we understand that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:2-5)

Certainly we all understand that we will be resurrected, but do we understand that we will ascend?  1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

The Holy Spirit baptized us into the full vicarious life of Jesus. Our soul will either ascend at the moment of our death, or if we are alive when Jesus comes then we will ascend to heaven just like Jesus on the Mount of Olives.

One glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away. What else does it mean for us?

Jesus left this earth visibly, bodily, and with the host of heaven around Him.  We shall ascend to meet Him in the same way.

That could happen at any time. It is called the imminent return of Christ. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself even as He is pure. (1 John 3:3) Jesus ascended into the full manifestation of His holy brilliant glory. We need to get ready for our ascension with holy living.

John 14:2-5 teaches that our eternal abode is being constructed by the great architect Himself. So the ascension of Jesus means that our mansion in heaven is under construction.

Jesus serves as our Mediator. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)  His ascension means our salvation won’t expire.

Jesus asks the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:26, Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? The disciples didn’t understand that it was the Father’s plan from eternity past to send His only begotten Son to suffer and then return to His glorified state. The ascension is the end of Jesus’ redemptive journey.

It reminds me of a rubber band that gets stretched only so far and then with great energy springs back. Jesus descended so far down that He was propelled back to even higher levels of glory and honor.

In our ascension all injustices will be righted. Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

The ascension means that we don’t have to seek to secure for ourselves a blessing on this earth. God is setting up treasures for us in heaven.

The ascension means that we can bear up under our earthly trials. We can be like Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We must consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that we will not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

The ascension is about receiving the blessing for Jesus and from Jesus

When Jesus ascended He began to bless. Luke 24:50-51 Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

Jesus was uttering a blessing on them and then continued doing so as He made lift off. He hasn’t stopped blessing His people since He left because He sent the Holy Spirit to fills all things.

Ephesians 1:20-22 God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Look back at the end of verse 10, that he might fill all things. That’s the goal, the method for our sanctification and the tool for redeeming the whole creation. The ascension opens the door for Jesus to bless His people by filling all things with His Spirit. This is the gift that Jesus gives His people which multiplies the good work He was doing into a worldwide building of the church. The specifics of this blessing manifests itself in Ephesians 4:11-13 where we see the list of spiritual gifts within the Church.

Jesus ascended to give, but that is not the imagery in Psalm 68. Ephesians 4:8 is a quote by the Apostle Paul from Psalm 68:18 which says, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts from men.”

This was a common scene in Israel. When King David returned from battle he would lead a triumphant march back into the city. The celebration included a victorious army and the captured enemy soldiers which were paraded through the streets. The whole city would come out to greet their king and give gifts to celebrate the victory.

But when Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 he changes one word to make the illustration fit even better the ascent of Jesus. Jesus enters the gates of splendor and receives all that He deserves and then gives to His people the same blessings that were bestowed upon Him. The king of Israel received gifts, but Jesus uses His ascension to give gifts.

Hear these words from the lips of Jesus. John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.

John 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus was filled with the fullness of God that He might work the will of the Father, and now He sends that same Spirit of enabling grace for us to do the will of God. That is the BIG GIFT Jesus gives.

By the Spirit we are filled with the presence of Christ. Christ is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Jesus wants to fill us to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to prepare us for heaven. Jude 24-25 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jesus was uttering a benediction upon the church as He ascended. Maybe Jesus said,  May God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

By the ascent Jesus provides the hope of success through His own success. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Imagine that glorious entry of Jesus into heaven! Was it like Psalm 24:7-10? Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory. Was it like our Call to Worship out of Psalm 47:5-8?

And Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. (Hebrews 10:12-13) It is no longer a do religion. It is a done religion.

Jesus came as a Suffering Servant, He returned “All glory Laud and Honor to thee Redeemer King.” He came as the Lamb ready for slaughter, He returned the Lion ready to come and exercise Dominion. He came as the Son of Man, He is now ascended as the Son of God most high.

There is one final issue involved in the ascension. When a son leaves home for an extended period of time, people begin to wonder if he got into any trouble while away. Did Jesus do anything to disqualify Himself? Did He break any obscure Old Testament law? Did Jesus ever show disrespect for His earthly mom and dad? Did He step outside of the heavenly Father’s will while pursuing His Divine calling? Did He get dirty in this sinful world? Did He get to comfy with fallen humanity? Did He humble himself so far that He isn’t really the right one to bear the full glory of God? Is there any residue of the curse still on Him? Did He embarrass the Father and the hosts of Heaven through His meek and quiet spirit? Did Jesus make any mistakes?

The Apostle John had a vision that asked that question. For a moment John stumbled over these questions. Listen to Revelation 5:2-14, And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Our Savior descended to take our misery, and now He is ascended that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)

Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

May we know the richest blessings of God’s goodness to us in Christ Jesus on this Ascension Sunday, that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit to be a light to the glory of the Son of God.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.