The ascension of Jesus -- mythological or fundamental?
Have you ever found parts of Scripture to be just plain weird and only marginally believable? And then you dig into it and find out it’s more fascinating and meaningful than you could have imagined? Today I want to talk about a biblical story that has been that way for me – the ascension of Jesus.
|Rembrandt's Ascension of Jesus|
What’s the ascension? That’s when Jesus, after he had been raised from the dead and spent time with his followers, gave a final blessing to them and was taken up into heaven right in front of them. Here’s how Luke tells the story of that day.
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:50-53)
As it turns out, yesterday was Ascension Day – 40 days after Easter. In honor of Ascension Day, and to finish out “body month” (Luminous Fridays during May), I want to quote from Luminous because when I researched the ascension in preparation to write that chapter, I was amazed at what I dug up.
For his final departure, Jesus ascended instead of just dematerializing. It makes a statement. First, the Son’s embodiment is permanent. It might be easy to view the incarnation as a short-term divine expedition. God the Son leaves heaven and goes to earth, donning human flesh while he is in the field, and then quickly shedding it once he returns home. That is not the case.
Second, the incarnate one is powerful. Jesus rose into the sky, where people understood heaven to be. The ascension was God’s visual communication that Jesus was going to sit at the right hand of the Father, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy (Dan 7:13-14; Mt 26:64).
Without experiencing the ascension, Jesus’ disciples would have lost a crucial part of the Jesus story. Where is he now? In the seat of power, next to the Father. What is next for him? “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Apostles’ Creed). Jesus stayed in skin, and this is one of the best guarantees that he will indeed return. Therefore, the salvation story relies on the ascension. Gerritt Scott Dawson writes, “Flesh is in heaven. Spirit and flesh are united. The ancient breach is healed. In Christ, we can be connected to God the Father.” (Gerrit Dawson, Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation, 189) (Luminous, 78)
God the Son is still embodied in human flesh. Human flesh is in heaven! It assures us the one enfleshed really is coming back to finish what he began. It’s a lot to celebrate on this ascension weekend!
Note: Throughout 2014, my Friday posts will be excerpts and thoughts from Luminous: Living the Presence and Power of Jesus (IVP, 2013). My hope is that these posts launch you into the weekend in a Jesus-centered way.