The Ascension

This Sunday in the church calendar is Ascension Sunday (the official Ascension was yesterday, May 9). The foundational text, though not in the lectionary for Sunday, is found in Acts 1:4-11.

What themes do you think we are to focus on in light of the Ascension of Christ? Why do you think we ignore Ascension?

Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:6    Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:7    He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:9    After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Acts 1:10    They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

In Tim Perry and Aaron Perry, He Ascended into Heaven: Learn to Live an Ascension-Shaped Life, we are treated to an accessible approach to the reality of the ascension, the theological substance of the ascension, and the significance of the ascension for Christian living. This is an exceptional book and deserving of every teacher’s and pastor’s library. (There are so few books on the Ascension, fewer still on an Ascension-shaped life.)

They make the point that we are to look up, then stop looking up and start looking forward — to the mission of God in this world.

St Augustine thought Ascension Day gave meaning to all other days in the church calendar and the Perrys say he thought it was the climax of the Christian Year.

The Ascension leads us to look back on the life of Jesus: What themes emerge in the life of Jesus once we look up to the Ascension?

The Ascension guides us to the cross: What themes emerge about the cross?

The Ascension teaches us that Jesus is both absent and present at the same time. The Ascension tells us about Jesus’ status more than his location. What is the relationship of the Spirit’s coming and the Son’s leaving?

The Perrys explore three Christian life themes for an Ascension-shaped life: confession of the creed, martyrdom, and the sacraments.

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  • Anthony Jones

    Scot, kind of a side note here. Are you in favor of churches using a lectionary of sorts and the church calendar to govern what is preached on Sundays more so than using “series” and the like as many non-demoninational churches do?

  • Clay Knick

    That’s a great book, Scot. I’m using it Sunday and quoting it in the sermon. Rich & concise. I think you mentioned it here a few years ago & I’ve used it pretty much each year I’ve preaching about the Ascension. Thanks for the tip.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, in general… and lectionary approaches always permit interruptions. We need the lectionary to avoid hobby horse preaching.

  • Steve_Winnipeg_Canada

    It’s cool to see a book by a prof from my old seminary – unfortunately never had him for a class.

    The lasting victory of Christ I think is a great theme of the ascension. ‘Death couldn’t hold Him…’ and still can’t. He is reigning from heaven as Lord of all. A great reality!

    I’ve always understood Pentecost as directly linked to the Ascension. The Spirit comes because the Son departs (Acts 2:33 + John 16:5-15).

    The most personal aspect, the one that has been most heart felt for me this week, is Jesus ascended and occupied with intercession – praying for us! It was unexpectedly powerful for me to dwell on Him up there, praying for me! Wrote about it yesterday:

  • AlanCK

    Starter themes for Ascension: the dynamic of worship (Jesus the leader of the liturgy), the dynamic of mission (Jesus the apostle), advocacy (“Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us”), the vindication of the way of Jesus Christ (“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”), presence (“I am sending upon you what my Father promised”), glory (“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead”), just to name a few.

    Why is Ascension ignored? My two cents is that its significance is not grasped. For me personally, I never thought much about it until the commencement speaker at my graduation (Dr. Bruce Waltke–bless him) pretty much chastised our school for failing to mention it in our statement of faith, much less celebrate it with worship. He reminded us that Psalm 110 was cited no less than 24 times in the New Testament, and that the Ascension is integral to the theology of the church–without it the resurrection is incomplete.

    Two other books I have found profitable regarding the Ascension are Douglas Farrow’s “Ascension and Ecclesia” and Gerrit Dawson’s “Jesus Ascended.”

  • Ray

    Here’s a clip I enjoy using when teaching on the theological significance of the Ascension in the unfolding drama of salvation history. Though not a perfect analogy, the allegorical tie-in should be obvious:

  • danaames

    A bit dismayed that Ascension in the west has been shifted to the Sunday following. The 40-day connection and significance becomes obscured.


  • LexCro

    Great post, Scot. I’ve definitely got to grab this book! With respect to Christ’s Ascension, it’s important for us to realize that Christ ascends to the right hand of the Father. Through His ascension, Jesus is rightfully and bodily installed as the the King of all that is. In grasping this, we better apprehend Jesus’ lordship. Jesus ascension back to the Father completes His circuit, with him having willfully laid down His divine prerogatives in His incarnation and earthly ministry, and via the ascension, having taken them up again.

    The link between Jesus’ ascension and the Holy Spirit’s descent is powerful and it is pivotal for what transpires in Acts 1:1-11. Briefly, the ascent-descent dynamic means that believers relate to the ascended Christ in and through the Spirit, with the Spirit mediating Christ’s presence. Also, Christ is reigning in and through His Church via the Spirit into the which the Church has been baptized. A powerful result of all this is that the Spirit extends Christ’s presence, ministry, and lordship in a way that Christ Himself could not do bodily. I believe this is why Jesus is so excited over His own departure when he said,

    “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn. 16:7)

    Also, I think the Spirit’s extension of Jesus’ presence, ministry, and lordship clues us into this statement from Jesus:

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

    (Jn. 14:12)

    In the second statement, Jesus doesn’t mean that the Church’s ministry will be qualitatively “better” than His. The servant is not greater than the Master! However, the Church’s ministry has been “greater” in the sense that–because of Christ’s reign in and through the Spirit-filled Church–it has gone far beyond what Christ could do bodily in a geographically- and culturally-bound setting. This is not done in spite of Christ, but because of Him and for Him, albeit by relating to Him in a radically different way–in and through the Holy Spirit.

  • Aaron Perry

    Thanks, Scot, for this post. I love the affirmation that the ascension gives to the cross. It affirms the cross not as a kind of injustice that God reverses, but as the truly faithful life that God completely validates and vindicates. I am always challenged to seek the cross as the route to the ascension rather than the ascension without the cross.