Today is Ascension Day, traditionally marked on the 40th day after Easter Sunday. The doctrine of Christ’s ascension has many implications. Here are just five.
1. Jesus is really alive.
The reality of Christ’s ascension, inextricable from the resurrection event, tells us that he did not raise from the dead only later to die again like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, Eutychus, or Tabitha. Jesus’ body will not be found because he took its glorified tangibility to heaven.
2. Heaven is thicker than earth.
We tend to think of heaven as the ethereal place of disembodied spirits. And in a way it is. But Elijah is there. And Enoch. And so is the risen, glorified, incarnate Christ. Jesus is there, taking up material space. He is touchable, present. Clearly, heaven is not less real than earth but more. It is a thicker reality than our four-dimensional space, more vibrant, more colorful, more real.
3. God’s plan for human dominion of earth is being realized.
The first Adam and his helper Eve were charged with filling the earth and subduing it. They screwed it up. But God’s plans cannot be thwarted. Man will reflect God’s glory in dominion over creation. In the Incarnation, then, God sends his only Son to right the course, reverse the curse, and begin the restoration of all things. The second Adam does the job, and even in his glorification, the incarnational “miracle of addition” (see below) persists, fulfilling God’s plan for man to reflect divine glory in dominion over creation. The God-Man, who is the radiance of the glory of God, rules over the earth and is even now subduing his enemies. “The ascension means that a human being rules the universe” (Tim Keller). Just as God planned.
4. The Incarnation is an enduring miracle.
The Incarnation was a humbling of God’s Son, but not a lessening of him. As I’ve argued in Gospel Deeps, the Son maintained his omnipresence even in his Incarnation. (Historical theologians have traditionally called this perspective the extra calvinisticum.) But what the ascension means is that Jesus Christ forever remains the Christ who is Jesus. He did not revert back to intangibility. But his ascended incarnational state then is not an eternal limitation but a part of his ongoing efforts to fill all things. He takes up more space in the heavens and the earth now, not less. The Incarnation is a miracle with no expiration date.
5. The ascension is gospel for sinners!
Why? Because if, among the many things the gospel means, it means we are united with Christ through faith, it also means that where he is we will be also. It means we will go to heaven in spirit, and heaven will come to us in body. The ascension is the full fruition of the promise of Christ’s resurrection being the firstfruits of our own. The ascension means the gospel is better news than we even thought, gooder than good! Because it holds out the promise, the blessed hope, not just of life after death, but as N.T. Wright says, life after life after death. What a gracious God we have!