The Record of the Ascension of Jesus Part 1

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A study by  J. Hampton Keathley, III at Bible.org

Tomorrow in Part 2 – The Record of Jesus’ ascension.

Seeing the Lord High and Exalted
(Isaiah 6)

I would like to introduce this study on the ascension of Christ with a brief look at Isaiah 6. This passage gives us a vision of the incomparable majesty of God, and in the process sets forth a number of contrasts between:

  • The human and the divine
  • The temporal and the eternal
  • The earthly and the heavenly

Isaiah 6:1-13 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people, And the land is utterly desolate, 12 “The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”

Isaiah’s vision, with its contrasts, is both timely and vital for believers of any age and time–but especially in times like these when our nation is literally on the skids spiritually, morally, and politically. The passage consists of REVELATION from God followed by a RESPONSE with specific RESULTS in the life of Isaiah.

God’s revelation always demands a response consistent with His revelation. Isaiah 6 contains a:

  • VISION–God’s REVELATION of Himself to Isaiah,
  • VERDICT–Isaiah’s RESPONSE by way of a confession of his and his people’s sinfulness, and
  • VOCATION–the RESULT, Isaiah’s commissioning and commitment of His life to the purpose of God.

In verse 1 the Hebrew text literally reads, “in the death year of King Uzziah.” This is emphatic and shortened for emphasis and effect. We would normally expect something like, “and it came to pass” as in Isaiah 7:1. The important point is that this vision of the heavenly king, the sovereign of the universe, came in the same year of this earthly king’s death.

This is important to note because it dramatically ties the vision to a critical moment in the spiritual and political history of the nation. Under King Uzziah Judah had experienced prosperous times. This King had extended the country’s boundaries to is ancient limits. Commerce and agriculture flourished, and the two nations, (Judah and Israel) were at peace. But more importantly, King Uzziah had established spiritual renewal. He had removed much of the idolatry and established spiritual reforms. He had sought to bring the people back to the Word of God.

But without King Uzziah’s leadership (which sought to bring the people back to God and His Word) these conditions would fast erode for there were already signs of spiritual lethargy and mere externalism in their religious life. Judah’s prosperity had degenerated into softness, luxurious living, and complacency toward God and their calling as a priesthood nation. Worship had been maintained with external regularity and religious precision–but they were keeping their hearts far from God. So, with King Uzziah’s death, apostasy could very well increase fast . As Isaiah considered the death of Uzziah, he must have thought that things could really go to the dogs.

Moreover, Assyria, a cruel, ruthless, and hungry tyrant, was increasing in power like a huge beast ready to pounce on all the nations of Palestine. So, it was a critical time, a time that not only involved the death of a godly king, but a time that foresaw the death of a nation as it turned not only away from the Lord but to the idolatrous influences from the East.

As we think about our own country today and see what is happening on every front, it is frightening, discouraging, and frustrating. We see the influx of the New Age movement and the tremendous rise of all the cults; the unisex issue; the abortion problem; the drug problem; the gay movement that has become politically powerful; the multi-billion dollar rock music industry with its blatant attacks on Jesus Christ and its emphasis on rebellion, violence, hedonism, and sex. We see the violence in our streets, especially on the rise among our young teens; the corruption in business and politics; an almost complete loss of moral values; the divorce rate and the break up of the home including abuse of women and children; and the failure of the church to make a significant difference.

But in the midst of the problems of Isaiah’s day, he was given a vision, one that we need perhaps more than Isaiah did. So note what we read next.

“I saw the Lord sitting . . .” Literally the text reads, “I saw also . . .” or “and then I saw the Lord.” In other words, against the backdrop of the problems of his day, Isaiah also saw the LORD. He saw the Lord “sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted” or “seated on a throne, high and exalted” (NIV). In other words, regardless of what was happening in the nation and on this earth, God was on the throne carrying out His purposes.

Psalm 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all. (NASB)

This revelation of the Lord turns our attention from the HUMAN and the EARTHLY to the DIVINE and the HEAVENLY–from the CHAOTIC and DEGENERATE to the PEACEFUL and HOLY. This passage gives us heaven’s perspective and the effect this should have on us as the people of God whom God has left here to represent Him. Let us gaze into heaven through the lens of Scripture to see our ascended and seated Lord, high and lifted up. And also, let us begin to see (1) what this means to us by way of blessings and privileges and (2) what effect this should have on us as the people of God.

In view of the phrase, “lofty and exalted” in Isaiah 6:1, let’s note the same phrase in Isaiah 52:13.

Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy of the suffering Servant of the Lord who must die for our sin, but at the very beginning of this passage, it anticipates His victory and exaltation or ascension.

The ascension of the Savior is a very important event which accomplished some wonderful and awesome things in the plan of God.

On Easter we commemorate the resurrection of Christ–one of the four greatest events in human history since the creation of man. The others include:

1. The first great event, and one anticipated since the fall of man, is the incarnation–the moment in time when God descended to earth in the person of His Son to become true, yet sinless humanity.

2. The second great event is the cross when the God-Man Savior died for our sins–the innocent bearing the penalty of the guilty.

3. The third great event is the resurrection, when Jesus Christ was raised from death by the glory of the Father.

4. “In our culture, as in most cultures around the world, the ultimate symbol of foreboding and despair is the grave . . . Yet the Bible shows us a grave–and empty grave–which is the picture of ultimate hope” (Donald K. Campbell, Seminary Easter Card, 1988).

But why was Christ raised from the grave? (1) To prove who He was–the eternal Son of God, and (2) to confirm the value of His death. But there is another important reason for the resurrection, (3) that Jesus Christ might, as the glorified and victorious Savior, ascend into the very presence of God, thus, opening the way for others to follow.

Many studies of the life of Christ trace His life and ministry beginning at Bethlehem and ending with the ascension. But Christ’s life existed from all eternity and continues into the eternal future. The ascension is the connecting link, the link between the past ministry of Christ and His future ministry.

“The ascension is not only a great FACT of the New Testament, but a greater FACTOR in the life of Christ and Christians, and no complete view of Jesus Christ is possible unless the ascension and its consequences are included” (ISBE, Griffith Thomas, Vol. 1, p. 263).

When you think of Christ, how do you think of Him? As the babe lying in the manger? Do you think of Him in terms of His ministry on earth and His mighty words and works? Or perhaps you think of Him as the one who died and rose again. There are many ways we may (and should) think about Jesus Christ and that we do so is tremendously important to the issues of life . . . assuming we come up with the right verdict.

In view of the Easter season and in view of the moral decay of our nation, I’d like to invite you to think especially of Jesus Christ as one who ascended into heaven. We want to be able to answer our Lord’s very provocative question, “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?” In other words, what does the ascension mean to us? What differences should it make in our belief and behavior?

We need to answer this question because it is tremendously important (1) to the impact of Christ on our daily lives, (2) to our courage and the enjoyment of our salvation in Christ, and (3) for our effectiveness in the mission of the Great Commission to which Christ has called each of us.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT, LIKE ISAIAH, WE SEE JESUS EXALTED OR HIGH AND LIFTED UP REGARDLESS OF WHAT IS HAPPENING ON EARTH.

The ascension, as one of the important truths of the Bible, occupies a large portion in the Word of God. Our study will demonstrate just why this is so, but let’s look at two passages that demonstrate our need to know and personally relate our lives to Jesus Christ–not only as the one who died and rose from the grave, but also as the ascended Lord.

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

2 Corinthians 5:16-17 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Paul is saying that we know him no longer as just a man, indeed He is the God-Man, but he is also saying that we know Him no longer as the one who came to earth in the flesh. We must know Him now as the ascended, exalted, glorified Savior.

By the word “ascension” we mean the removal of Jesus Christ from this earth into a different place and sphere which we call heaven. A place seen by Isaiah as high and exalted, a place of sovereign control and authority. It is a removal, a change of position and locale which is of the utmost importance both to God and to man.

The ascension completes the resurrection. Without the resurrection Christ’s death would be meaningless as far as the great issues of life are concerned. And without the ascension, the resurrection would also be incomplete and meaningless. We would have a resurrected person, but not one who was now at God’s right hand in the place of authority.

Please note the progression:

  • First there is Christ’s descent to earth–God becoming man, the incarnation.
  • This is followed by Christ’s death and resurrection as the God-Man Savior.
  • But for God’s purposes to be fulfilled and our need supplied, there must also be Christ’s ascent into heaven as the God-Man Savior and King of His people.

“The ascension is the important link between His work on earth and His work in heaven which begins with the ascension” (Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, p. 224).

It is important to remember that the New Testament was written by men who were thoroughly convinced that Jesus was at the right hand of the Father, and that through the ministry of the Holy Spirit they were in union with this ascended Lord and were, by His commission and through His ascended authority and power, left here to continue the work which He began.

In relation to the ascension, the Lord said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me.” The ascension means the Lord’s physical removal from His people on earth and from this present state of affairs, “but the spiritual value of the Ascension lies not in Christ’s physical remoteness, but in His spiritual nearness. He is free from earthly limitations, and His life above is the promise and guarantee” (Thomas, p. 265) not only life and life eternal, but it is also the proof of our purpose and the promise of capacity for ministry as His people.

Jesus said, “Because I live you shall live also.” But in the total context of the New Testament, this refers not only to the resurrection but to His continued life as the ascended and seated Lord of the church and the universe.

The Christ of the Gospels is the Christ of the past, the eternal past and the historic past, “but the full New Testament picture of Christ is that of a living Christ , the Christ of heaven, the Christ of experience, the Christ of the present and the future” (Griffith Thomas, p. 263).

We must not miss the connection between Isaiah’s VISION and his VOCATION. It had the right impact on the prophet’s life. The Gospel ends with the promise of Christ’s authority as the ascended Lord, the gift of the Spirit, and the Great Commission (God’s calling on our lives). It did not end with the promise of peace and prosperity, which is so often the emphasis in our culture. It ended with the fact and picture of an ascended, sovereign LORD who has commissioned us to live for Him.

If we are to endure and carry on in this sin-ridden world, running the race God has laid out before us, we need to see Jesus Christ. We must fix our gaze on Him, but how are we to do that?

Reclame

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