Ascension: Mystery, Marvel, Miracle, and Mysticism
Don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ ascension was a bodily ascension. This matters! It means that in the Incarnation Jesus took on and identified with the human body for all time.
By Leon Bent
According to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, after appearing to the Apostles on various occasions during a period of 40 days, Jesus was taken up in their presence and was then hidden from them by a cloud, a frequent biblical image signifying the presence of God. Ascension, in Christian belief, is the ascent of Jesus Christ into heaven on the 40th day after his Resurrection.
The veiled character of the glory of the Risen One, after the Resurrection is intimated in his mysterious words to Mary Magdalene: "Do not touch me, I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." This indicates a difference in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father's right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension (.CCC 660).
Being seated at the Father's right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah's Kingdom, the fulfilment of the prophet Daniel's vision concerning the Son of man: "To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his Kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." After this event the apostles became witnesses of the "kingdom [that] will have no end" (CCC 664).
As you read through the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, you’ll find that Jesus focused much more on his Ascension than we do. By “ascension,” I’m referring to Jesus’ bodily return to heaven after his resurrection (see Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:9–11).
Before his Incarnation, Jesus enjoyed perfect fellowship in the immediate presence of God the Father. This is what he longed to reclaim, and it’s one reason the Ascension was so important to him. Don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ ascension was a bodily ascension. This matters! It means that in the Incarnation Jesus took on and identified with the human body for all time.
By his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the King! If the resurrection declared Jesus to be King, then, the Ascension functions as his coronation ceremony. It was important that his disciples saw him depart, ascending to his throne, knowing he would return in the same fashion. In fact, before his ascension, Jesus promised his followers that he would soon pour out the Holy Spirit on them and in them. Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CCC 667).
Hebrews 9:24 talks of Jesus’ Priestly role as he enters the heavenly sanctuary to offer his sacrifice, ‘once and for all time.’ After Jesus’ earthly sacrifice on Mount Calvary and his Resurrection, he rose to heaven, in his ‘glorified body,’ or ‘Spirit Body,’ to sit at the right hand of the Father, for an eternity. The historical-earthly event is exalted to heavenly heights. At Mass, we participate in the earthly sacrifice of the eternal high priest in heaven (Brant Pitre).
As our high priest, Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, indicating that his work of sacrifice is done (Hebrews 10:11–12). Our standing with God doesn’t depend on our actions or our emotions, but on the finished work of Christ.
The enthroned king has been given all power to rule, and this power is his to dispense to his Church (see Ephesians 1:15–23). Nothing can stand in the way of God’s purposes, and he will accomplish them with power, often through us.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from earth, the note was joyous, not mournful. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that, where I am you may also be” (John 14:3). In this one verse, Jesus gives at least three reasons for hope. He is preparing a place for us. He will come again. He will take us to be with him. This is the destiny for those who, by God’s grace, call on Jesus in faith.
The Ascension of Jesus is one of the accepted doctrines of Christianity. The Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed all confess that Christ ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father.
The Ascension is not some strange kind of ‘space travel’. When Jesus ascended he was ‘exalted!” He is “seated” – the Cross is left behind. His work of perfect, perpetual atonement is finished with finality! He is “seated at the right hand of the Father,” which means he shares power and glory with the Father and acts as mediator. He is, after all, the High Priest who passes far beyond the veil. How did this happen?
On Good Friday the Veil of the Temple Sanctuary was torn asunder. Calvary brought access to heaven. This is the power of the all-Holy One!
The human nature of Jesus Christ, like ours, is in heaven. Consequently, we have a High Priest up there, who understands us, and now our body too, will rise to Paradise. This is why the Incarnation and the Ascension have a direct connection. Jesus came down to earth as a human being, but was taken up at the Ascension. This gives us hope, we, too, will share in his bliss that never ends.
Further, Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CCC 667).
Hebrews 9:24 talks of Jesus’ Priestly role as he enters the heavenly sanctuary to offer his sacrifice, ‘once and for all time.’ After Jesus’ earthly sacrifice on Mount Calvary and his Resurrection, he rose to heaven, in his ‘glorified body,’ or ‘Spirit Body,’ to sit at the right hand of the Father, for an eternity. The historical-earthly event is exalted to heavenly heights. At Mass, we participate in the earthly sacrifice of the eternal high priest, in his ‘glorified body’, in heaven (Brant Pitre). The Cross is made perpetual through the mystery of our High Priest in heaven.
The historical event is taken to heaven. CCC 662 says, Jesus’ sacrifice reaches us, now, because of his Ascension, through the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. So, at Mass, we participate in earthly sacrifice of the eternal High Priest in heaven.
We, too, are in heaven, potentially, if we are sinless. What astounding and assuring hope! Jesus had undergone all our suffering, because he had our human nature, and he is forever interceding on our behalf, now. The work of mercy goes on and on, because of our frailties and childhood ‘wounds.’
Jesus is also the New Temple because redemptive ‘blood and water flowed from the Altar of his heart!” (Jn.19:31-37). And, because of this, God placed everything under his feet, and appointed him head of the Church, which is his Body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
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