Our Hope in the Ascension

Our Hope in the Ascension

The Ascension is a further fulfillment and vindication of the triumph of the Resurrection. It is no wonder that the Ascension is highlighted throughout the New Testament as a necessary precursor to a number of blessings in this age of the Spirit. The Ascension is linked to the giving of Messianic gifts (Eph. 4:8-10), to the intercession of our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), and to the subjection of all things under Christ’s feet (1 Peter 3:22). Because Jesus is our conquering king, he is positioned to gift us with the spoils of victory.

We must place our hope in men,” said Gandalf.

“Men!” Elrond replied. “The race of men is weak, failing. The blood of Numenor is all but spent, its pride and dignity forgotten. It is because of men that the Ring survives. I was there, three thousand years ago, when Isildur took the ring. I was there when the strength of men failed.”

This scene from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy should remind us of the doctrine of the Ascension. Elrond was right, but Gandalf was more right. Yes, the race of men is weak. Yes, evil survives (and thrives) because one man took what he should not have taken. Yes, the strength of men failed thousands of years ago. But our hope in human flesh is not misplaced. In Tolkien’s story, there is a Man—Aragorn—to sit on Gondor’s throne. Just as because of Christ’s Ascension, human flesh now sits at the right hand of God.

Of all the aspects of Christ’s work in his state of exaltation, the Ascension is one of the most overlooked. Every Christian knows something about the Resurrection. Most look forward to Christ’s coming again. But few could tell you much about the Ascension. To be sure, it’s there in the Creed, but most Christians—if they consider the Ascension at all—think of it as little more than a heavenly transit system. Jesus ascended into heaven; that’s how the Son of God got back home. Although Easter is a high point in the church calendar for most Christians, Ascension Day is virtually forgotten in many Protestant traditions, including my own Reformed tradition.

This has not always been the case. Even as Calvin and Bucer moved away from many of the Catholic calendar’s saint days and holy days, they still retained “Five Evangelical Feasts” in the church calendar: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. The Palatinate Church Order of 1563 (an influential liturgical manual from the Heidelberg area of Germany) observed Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Church Order coming out of the Synod of Dort (1618–19) adopted what had long been the practice of Reformed churches in the Netherlands: the observation of several feast days (including the Ascension of Christ) in addition to Sunday. In the words of Daniel Hyde, for the Reformed tradition on the continent, these evangelical feasts were “not holy but helpful.”

More important than history, of course, is the Bible.

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