by James Paterson, Scotland
THE JOURNEY – PASSED THROUGH THE HEAVENS
THE ASCENSION – PRACTICAL APPLICATION TO BELIEVERS
The ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is a major link in the chain of fulfilled prophecy, seen both in the Old and New Testaments. In Ps.110.1, David prophesied the ascension of the Lord Jesus when he spoke of the enthronement of the Lord at the right hand of the Father, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” Interestingly, no other Psalm is quoted in the New Testament as much as this one, pointing to the importance of the event prophesied. Most of the Old Testament references to ascension, although not directly related to the ascension of the Lord Jesus into heaven, emphasise that it is a Divine act done only by God’s power, and not to be considered possible by mere humanity. In this respect it is interesting to note that, “it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” 2Kgs.2.11,12: “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in His fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is His name, and what is His son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Prov.30.4.
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Himself spoke to His disciples about His ascension. While they struggled with the concept of His death, He told them, “I go unto My Father” Jn.14.12. While at His trial, He told the high priest, “I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” Matt.26.64. In addition to these comments He intimated His return to the Father in the words: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” Jn.6.62; “Then said Jesus unto them, yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent Me” Jn.7.33; “If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for My Father is greater than I” Jn.14.28; “But now I go My way to Him that sent Me; and none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?” Jn.16.5.
The ascension took place forty days after the resurrection: “being seen of them forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” Acts 1.3. The Lord Jesus ascended from the side of the Mount of Olives as recorded by both Luke and Mark: “And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” Lk.24.50,51; “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” Mk.16.19. The ascension was witnessed by the apostles who heard the pronouncement from the “two men [who] stood by them in white apparel” Acts 1.10, that His return to the earth would be after the pattern of His ascension. While other chapters in this publication will deal with the Lord’s return in glory, the use of the verb, ‘theaomai’ ‘‘to perceive”, confirms the manner of Christ’s final return. They literally saw Christ ascend, and of the 24 times the verb ‘theaomai’ is used in the New Testament, it is always used literally and never figuratively. Therefore, this combined with Luke’s emphasis that the return will be “in like manner”, Acts 1.11, confirms His literal, visible coming, Rev.1.7.
In addition to the records of Mark and Luke, the event is accepted as fact in the balance of New Testament Scripture, including, Acts 2.33; Eph.4.8-10; Phil.3.20; Col.3.1; ITim.3.16; 1Pet.3.22, indicating the present position of the Lord Jesus, subsequent to His ascension from the earth. In addition to these Scriptures, Stephen at the point of his martyrdom was permitted to actually see the ascended Christ and petition Him: Stephen “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” Acts 7.55,56.
However, while there are various references as proof that the ascension has taken place, there is not much recorded with regard to the actual event. Luke’s account of the ascension in Acts 1.9-11, uses only 63 words in the Greek Testament, showing firstly the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, preventing any natural expansion of the narrative, and secondly, suggesting that the ascension was never a point of controversy among the early disciples. It was never argued against, but the prophetic word and the testimony of those who witnessed were accepted.
Not only was the ascension prophetically announced and confirmed by those who witnessed it, but it also marked the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to His Father. Interestingly, the involvement of God the Father is seen in the use of the Greek term ‘analambano’, meaning ‘to take up, to take to oneself, receive’. The ascension of Christ has practical repercussions for believers. In each of the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts, the commission to preach the gospel and be witnesses of Him, was given by the risen Christ prior to His ascension, and in anticipation of His ascension, Matt.28.18-20; Mk.16.15,16; Lk.24.47; Acts 1.8. This is illustrated in the parable of the pounds Lk.19.12-27 and that of the talents, Matt.25.15-30, in which the nobleman [Christ] who went into the far country, expected his servants to wisely utilise and develop, on his behalf, that which had been placed at their disposal. The discharge of responsibility brought praise or loss, so our position in the Kingdom will be directly proportionate to our service for Christ now.
- Lifted up was He to die,
- “It is finished,” was His cry,
- Now in heaven exalted high;
- Hallelujah! What a Saviour.
- (Philip P. Bliss)
No one saw the Lord Jesus rise from the dead, but He was seen ascending into heaven by the apostles. Men saw the result of the resurrection; the living, glorified and resurrected Christ, but the act was not seen. To confirm the resurrection it was not necessary that men see Him rise out of the grave. Knowing He was surely dead, men only needed to see clear evidence for the resurrection such as the empty tomb, the grave clothes as they lay, and the risen Christ Who appeared time and again during the forty days leading up to the ascension: “Being seen of them for forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” Acts1.3. By contrast, the apostles saw Christ ascending into heaven; they saw the act of ascension, but not His arrival at the right hand of God. This was only partially revealed in visions given to: Stephen, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” Acts 7.56; Saul on the Damascus road, “And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose …” Acts 26.15,16; John when caught up into heaven, “I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain …” Rev.5.6.
The ascension of Christ is proven by the fact of Him being seated as the victorious and exalted Saviour. One of the great aspects of the doctrine of the epistles is Christ seated in heaven, exalted to God’s right hand, and He must have ascended for this to take place. Proof of the ascension is strengthened by the eye witness account of the apostles, Lk.24.51; Acts 1.9-11.
The location of the ascension from the Mount of Olives is interesting. It was on this mount that the Lord had, on more than one occasion, shed tears; now it had become the place of His triumphal return to the Father. Previously He had looked over the city with longing and wept as He thought of the future destruction of the city. “And when He was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives …” Lk.19.37; “when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it”, v.41. Bethany was on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, and it was there, at the tomb of Lazarus, as He was faced with the dreadful consequences of sin, that “Jesus wept” Jn.11.35. The writer of the Hebrew Epistle seems to record tears in the garden of Gethsemane, (the garden being on the western slopes of the mount) when he writes, “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared” Heb.5.7.
We mentioned in the introductory paragraph the Greek word analambano ‘to take up’. Five times in the New Testament the term is used in respect of the Lord’s ascension: Mk.16.19; Acts 1.2,11,22; 1Tim.3.16. Each time the verb is in the passive voice, i.e. He ‘was taken up’. The passive voice represents the subject of the verb as being acted upon, which is, in this instance, indicating that the ‘taking up’ was directed from above, i.e. empowered by God.
In addition to this expression, Luke uses other words to refer to the ascension. These are; “received up,” hupolambano, ‘to take from below’ Acts 1.9; “went up” poreuomai, ‘travel’ Acts 1.10; “taken up”, epairo, ‘received up’ (to destination) Acts 1.2,22.
The apostles watched this miraculous ascension take place until they could see Him no more, “a cloud received Him out of their sight” Acts 1.9. Generally clouds in Scripture appear to hide God from men, but are also symbols of His presence, and so the recently crucified Jesus is received in a cloud, with all its past and future associations with Deity.
The apostles remain gazing heavenward. Their intent is emphasised in the word used – atenidzo, “to stretch, to gaze intently”. The appearance of the two men in white apparel confirms His return, “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” Acts 1.11. He ascended, received by clouds and will return with clouds, “behold He cometh with clouds …” Rev.1.7. The apostles saw Him go. They literally saw Christ ascend. Additionally, Luke emphasises that, “in like manner” i.e., in a visible fashion, the Lord will return to the earth. The combination of these terms clearly indicates that His return to the earth will be an actual, literal return.
We should confirm at this point, that before this event takes place, and prior to the tribulation and Great Tribulation which precedes it, the believers will be removed from the earth at the event commonly called ‘the rapture’. This event is foretold in the words of tender encouragement given by the Lord Jesus to His own before the cross, that preceding His return to the earth, will be His return to the air for His own, not visible to the world, but only relevant to those who are His: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” Jn.14.3. The Lord’s coming for His own is developed in chapter 9 of this book, however, in light of the common error of Amillennialism this truth is worthy of restatement.
There seems little doubt that the two men in shining apparel were angels carrying out their final act in relation to the person of the Lord Jesus on earth. It is helpful to observe that angels:
- had announced His birth, Lk.2.11
- had ministered to Him at His temptation, Mk.1.13
- had strengthened Him in Gethsemane, Lk.22.43
- had declared His resurrection from the empty tomb, Lk.24.4-6
- declare His entering into heaven and His future manifestation in glory; that day of His coming to the earth, having already been declared as part of the great prophecy in Zech.14.4.
Anderson writes, “The greatest message that angels in human form ever delivered was that the One Who had been taken up in the clouds was coming back again.”1 So a new chapter had begun, the material body of the Lord Jesus Christ was now in heaven, and soon the mystical body would be formed on earth.
- We did not mark the chosen few
- When Thou didst through the clouds ascend,
- First lift to heaven their wondering view,
- Then to the earth all prostrate bend;
- Yet we believe that mortal eyes
- Beheld that journey to the skies.
- (John H Gurney)
- 1 Anderson, James. “Acts – What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd, 1992.
THE JOURNEY – PASSED THROUGH THE HEAVENS
While the last view of Christ that the apostles had was as He entered into the cloud, Scripture expands on the journey undertaken. The writer to the Hebrews uses the expression, “passed into the heavens”, literally, “passed through the heavens” Heb.4.14. Peter uses a similar expression when writing in his first epistle, “who is gone into heaven” 1Pet.3.22. (We shall look at this verse later.)
Being careful not to overlap greatly, since the great high priestly aspect of the work of Christ is expounded in chapter 6 of this book, we briefly mention the subject as it follows the journey through the heavens.
The fact that Christ is a priest and a high priest has been observed already in Heb.2.17; 3.1, but in Heb.4.14 He is called “great”. This is because of the dignity of His person, the virtue of His sacrifice and because of the place where He now officiates, i.e. heaven. It was heaven from whence He came, and offered Himself a sacrifice for the sins of His people; having done this, He ascended back again, to appear for them, and to make intercession for them; whereby, He fully answers to His character as the Great High Priest. His right to do so is seen in His name; “Jesus, the Son of God” Heb.4.14. This name of Jesus signifies a Saviour and respects His office; secondly, the term Son of God expresses the dignity of His office and respects His person; He is the Son of God in such sense as angels and men are not; not by creation, nor adoption, but by nature, not as man, but as God, being of the same nature with His Father, and equal to Him. It is this which makes Him a Great High Priest, and gives virtue and efficacy to all that He does.
The passing through the heavens would seem to be a reference to the typical teaching when the high priest enters into the holy of holies on the day of atonement. Firstly, he would offer sacrifices of expiation, enter through the first veil into the holy place, and on through the second veil into the holiest of all to sprinkle the blood of atonement and burn incense before Jehovah. The detail and sequence of the events are set out in Leviticus chapter 16.
This reference in Hebrews chapter 4, points firstly to the fact that there is no Great High Priest on earth. Having finished His work on earth, He has passed through the heavens into the immediate presence of God. Secondly, the thought seems to show the superiority of the Lord Jesus to the Aaronic priesthood. The priest of old had to offer repeated sacrifices to allow him limited access to the holy of holies, the symbolic presence of God. However, our Great High Priest has passed through the heavens into the actual presence of God, based on His singular sacrifice. Thirdly, there is the efficacy of His sacrifice. Had His sacrifice not been absolutely acceptable to God, He would not have passed through the heavens.
While the above verses show the journey through the heavens to the presence of the Father, the Scriptures show the grades of authorities to be passed until the Lord Jesus takes His position on the right hand of God. In Ephesians there is evidently a succession of planes in the heavenly realm: “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” Eph.1.21; principalities and powers are mentioned again in Eph.3.10. While these references would apply to human and supernatural beings, whether “in this world” or, “in that which is to come”, they all disappear from view in comparison with the glory which Christ has received from the Father. The throne of God to which Christ has been exalted is “far above” all of these. Christ has, “ascended up far above all heavens” Eph.4.10.
These words used in Ephesians and also in Col.1.16, “thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers”, describe the various strata of authorities: thrones (thronos), ‘stately seats’, ‘potentates’; Principality (arche) ‘power’, ‘rule’; Power (exousia) ‘authority,’ ‘influence’; Might (dunamis) ‘force’; Dominion (kuriotes) ‘rulers’. The Lord Jesus is “far above” all of these, the Greek, hooperano, means, ‘greatly higher’.
However, there is another class of authorities in addition to this list of which Paul writes: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” Eph.6.12. The words refer to the forces we, as the people of God, fight against, but the fact that they are in high places must mean that the Lord Jesus Christ in His going through the heavens, bypassed the Satanic ranks of wicked spirits, such as the demons, which are unclean, proud, lying, deceitful, and malicious, who may be said to be in “high” or “heavenly places”. This is not in the highest heavens, i.e. the third heaven where God dwells, but in the aerial heavens, where the power of demons resides, and where they are above us, over our heads, overlooking us, and watching for every advantage against us. In relation to His passing through the ranks of “spiritual wickedness” in His ascent, we take into consideration His leading “captivity captive”, “Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” Eph.4.8. This is also confirmed in Col.2.15, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”
The ascension of the Lord Jesus is a fulfilment of the statement of the Psalmist, “Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them” Ps.68.18. This verse confirms in a literal sense that Christ has ascended; in the Hebrew text it is, “Thou hast ascended” (alah). The psalmist speaks to the Messiah directly and describes His triumph; likewise the apostle Paul speaks of Him in the same way. In His ascension, He led captivity captive, expressing Christ’s conquests and triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and the grave; and indeed Christ has spoiled and triumphed over every spiritual enemy of His and of His people. Further confirmation is given again by Paul, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” Col.2.15.
With regard to captivity being led captive, Gill writes, “The allusion is to the public triumphs of the Romans, in which captives were led in chains, and exposed to open view”.2
- Captivity is captive led
- Since Jesus liveth that was dead.
- (Thomas Haweis)
- 2 Gill, John. “Exposition on the Whole Bible”. Kindle edition.
It is worth mentioning other references which also give the idea of a journey or moving towards: He “ascended up far above all heavens” Eph.4.10; He is “made higher than the heavens” Heb.7.26; He entered “into heaven itself” Heb.9.24. It should be noted that while we have described the ascension as a journey, in light of the expression, “through the heavens” Heb.4.14, this does not mean that there is a passage of time. When, “a cloud received Him out of their sight” Acts 1.9, the Lord Jesus was immediately at the right hand of God.
- He fills the throne – the throne above,
- He fills it without wrong;
- The object of His Father’s love,
- The theme of angels’ song.
- To Him Whom men despise and slight,
- To Him be glory given;
- The crown is His, and His by right
- The highest place in heaven.
- (Thomas Kelly)
THE JOURNEY – THE DESTINATION
To return to the aforementioned description given by Peter, that the Lord Jesus has “gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” 1Pet.3.22, we see the position occupied by the Lord Jesus and its significance. This aspect of His position on entering heaven is further developed and confirmed in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
- • confirming His finished work, Heb.1.3
- • of His ministry as High Priest, Heb.8.1
- • the everlasting efficacy of His singular sacrifice, Heb.10.12
- • as the Leader and Consummator of faith, Heb.12.2.
As the Son of God, the Lord Jesus had possessed absolute power for all eternity; however, He withheld exercising much of that power in the period of His life on earth, but now He has entered again into the place of authority, i.e. the right hand of God. In the ancient world, to sit at the right hand of the king signified that one acted with the king’s authority and power. This position is a fulfilment of Psalm 110 which speaks well of Christ.
Peter focuses on Christ’s authority in the unseen spiritual world, as He has angels, authorities and powers subject to Him. These three terms can be applied to both good and evil spiritual beings elsewhere in Scripture, and without specific restrictions in the context, it is better to understand them as a reference to all spiritual beings in the universe, all being in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ, and who hold their dominions from and under Him. This is an argument why we, as believers, should patiently bear all our sufferings and afflictions, since Christ has the government in His hands, and He rules and overrules all things for good. Indeed, if and when He pleases, He can put a stop to the rage and persecutions of men.
Various Scriptures confirm His activity and the relevance of the position that He now occupies:
His Permanent Priesthood
“But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood” Heb.7.24. Though He died, He continues! He was not forced to die, but died voluntarily, quickly rose from the dead and the virtue of His sacrifice always remains. He ever lives as an intercessor: wherefore He hath an unchangeable priesthood, which will never deteriorate nor give place to another. Neither will it be transferred from Him to another, for He lives forever! This is a matter of comfort to His people, that He sits a High Priest upon His throne, and that His priesthood always continues.
He Rules and Protects His Church as its Head
“And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” Eph.1.22,23. “He hath put all things under His feet” is a quotation from Ps.8.6. Not only is the Lord Jesus supreme in relation to the varied ranks of administration, but all things have already been put under His feet in Divine purpose. He has been given as head to the church, identified in the statement, “which is His body” Eph.1.23. The church, His body, is the fullness and complement of Christ. As exalted head He is complete having the church as His body. Not only is the church as His body His complement, but He manifests Himself through the church, as its head.
From His Position at the Right Hand of God, He Governs the Universe
“Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power …” Heb.1.3. It is the Son of God Himself, Who upholds all creatures He has made; bears up the pillars of the universe; preserves every creature, and supports it, and supplies it with the necessities of life. He rules and governs all, and orders and disposes of all things in the world. It is by His all-powerful will that He is truly and properly God. Gill comments, “upholding all things by the word of His power; is rendered in the Syriac version, by the power of His word”, which maintains the same sense, although putting more emphasis on the power of His spoken word.
He is the Great High Priest of His people, as we have already mentioned, and is our Advocate with the Father, 1Jn.2.1. For these subjects see chapters 5 and 6 of this book.
While at the Right Hand of God, He Waits the Time of the Realisation of His Final Victory
While His victory is absolute and complete, the realisation of it has yet to be fulfilled. This glorious day is foretold in Psalm 110 as we have noted. However, this is further confirmed in the New Testament, “For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool” Acts 2.34,35. It is further confirmed, “From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool” Heb.10.13. Paul amplifies the idea, while still including the Psalmist’s statement when he writes, “Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” 1Cor.15.24-26.
His Ascension in Power is the Prelude to His Coming in Power and Glory
Many Scriptures could be quoted to teach His coming from heaven to judge His enemies and establish his kingdom, when His glory will be known, but we are happy to direct the reader to chapters 11 and 12 of this book.
- He sits at God’s right hand
- Till all His foes submit,
- And bow to His command,
- And fall beneath His feet:
- (Charles Wesley)
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ASCENSION
In the night of His betrayal, as the Lord Jesus conversed with His disciples collectively for the last time before He went to the cross, He spoke with them of various things in relation to the Father’s house.
We have mentioned earlier the promise of His coming for them, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” Jn.14.3. This is the promise of a place prepared. He also spoke of: the Person Who is the pathway to the Father’s house, “I am the way” Jn.14.6; those who arethe people for the Father’s house, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me …” Jn.14.12; the Paraclete from the Father’s house, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” Jn.14.16-18; the promise from the Father’s house, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him” Jn.14.23; the purpose of theParaclete from the Father’s house, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” Jn.14.26; finally, peace from the Father’s house, “let not your heart be troubled” Jn.14.1, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” Jn.14.27.
We see from these verses the important promise given to the disciples with regard to the giving of another (allos) ‘of the same kind’, comforter (parakletos) ‘advocate’ after that the Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven. The Lord Himself commanded them, “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me . For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” Acts 1.4,5. This commandment was given shortly before the ascension, and so after the Lord Jesus had gone into heaven the apostles returned to Jerusalem to wait as commanded until the, “day of Pentecost was fully come” Acts 2.1.
The day of Pentecost had come some fifteen hundred times before, in the experience of Israel. It had come and gone, ever since Moses had instituted the feast of weeks: “And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end” Ex.34.22. The feast was so called in the Old Testament, but called Pentecost in the New Testament, where there are only three references to the word; Acts 2.1; 20.16; 1Cor.16.8. The Lord Jesus Christ had ascended and now, as He said it would, the day of Pentecost was fully come in a sense greater than the completion of the fifty days from Calvary. The day foreshadowed by the feast of weeks was about to have its complete fulfilment. This day was never to be repeated! It was the day foretold by the Lord Jesus before He ascended from the Mount of Olives, the day for which the disciples obediently waited. Their Lord had gone from their midst, but collectively they waited for the event that would change not only their world, but also change the world through them.
Even though the local church had not yet been formed in Jerusalem at that time, the disciples waited collectively: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” Acts 1.14; “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” Acts 2.1. The gift of the Spirit was not to a select few, nor only to the apostles. The ‘all’ is emphatic and includes the one hundred and twenty, Acts 1.15. They were in one place, not simply by convenience or prior arrangement, but as evidence of having common bonds, and enjoying harmony of motivation and practice. “In one place” Acts 2.1, points to the absence of sectarianism, and on the formation of the local church in Jerusalem, would indicate the absence of denominationalism. This pattern should be evident in the local church today.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was without parallel in the past. It was accompanied by a corresponding outpouring of the Word of God. New revelation would be made, resulting in the writing of the New Testament to be added to and complementing, the existing Old Testament writings. The gift of prophecy was now given to the Church as before it had been given to Israel. The gift of a prophet, like that of an apostle, was a foundational gift: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” Eph.2.20. However, such gifts, like that of tongues, would serve their purpose and become redundant once the witness to Israel as a nation was over and once the canon of Scripture was complete.
It is essential to understand that the Holy Spirit only came down once; His coming was unique and final. It was unique in that it had never happened before, and final in that it will never happen again in this way. Believers are not baptised in this way at conversion; rather we come into the good of the event that took place at Pentecost. Nowhere in Scripture is it stated that believers are baptised in the Spirit at conversion, rather words like; “sealed” Eph.1.13; 4.30 and “earnest” 2Cor.1.22; 5.5 are used, but not baptism. Therefore the experience of the three thousand souls that believed on that great day stood in association with the original baptised group in the Body of Christ. Likewise those from Pentecost until the Rapture who believe, enter into the benefits of the once for all, outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Head of the Church
At the aforementioned day of Pentecost we have the birth of the Church, which has been described by commentators in various ways, such as the Church universal or the Church dispensational. However, it is best to use the Scriptural description as used by Paul when he writes; “And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” Eph.1.22,23. i.e. the Church which is His Body. In this section we will refer to it as such.
This is the Church of which the Lord Jesus spoke when he answered Peter’s declaration as to Who He is, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt.16.16-18. The Church which is His Body is made up of every believer from Pentecost to the Rapture, and is entered on believing. Since this is so, the position of those within is permanent, hence the words of the Lord Jesus that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt.16.18.
There are of course differences between the Church which is His Body and the local church, which we should mention at this point. The local church is an established gathering of believers in any given locality, called out from Christendom and gathered to His Name. It is comprised of those who believe, are baptised by immersion and are of correct walk and manner of life, according to New Testament teaching. However, it is the case that members of a local church can leave, both for their own reasons which are strangely various, or by discipline due to sinful activity. Sadly the local church is constantly under satanic attack. While every believer in a local church is in the Church which is His Body, not every believer in the Church which is His Body gathers in a local church. Also it may be the sad case that not every person in a local church is a believer, while such is impossible in the Church which is His body. (N.B. The use of the word ‘believer’ is in the true Scriptural sense.)
Every institution must have a head, or someone who leads and guides that institution. Without a head no institution can function effectively. However, the Church which is His Body is an organism rather than an institution. It is living and vibrant and controlled by its Head. The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head over His Church. He is the One Who is consistent and faithful, the One in Whom we can put our full faith and confidence. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. He is its only Head and does not change, Heb.13.8. No human possesses the right to take that position. Christ is the Head of the Church because the Church is His Body. “And He is the head of the body, the church” Col.1.18; “… gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” Eph.1.22,23. This symbolism of the body is very apt. In a natural body we see unity and harmony. If not, we see disease and death. In our body, it is our head that governs and rules the rest of the body. Without our head, the body could not function. Also, it is by our head that others recognise us. A body can lose a limb and still exist, but a body cannot lose its head and live. This symbolism is very strong and we must recognise the power that belongs to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
This symbolism goes even further. Paul says this very clearly: “There is one body” Eph.4.4. If there is only one body, and that body is the Church, then Christ is the Head of His own Body. Believers are members of the Body of Christ, or the Church. The Scriptures speak of one body, not many; they speak of believers as being individual members within that body, working together for the good of the whole body. “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” Eph.5.30. With Christ as the Head, He then governs and rules the body. We must be followers of Him, and not the teachings of men. To teach or practise anything not authorised by our Head, Christ, is to be accursed, Gal.1.8,9. The point being made by Paul is that Christ is the ultimate authority over the Church. No one has the power or authority to speak contrary to the authority of Christ.
However, the tenderness of Christ as Head of the Body is seen when the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians and draws the analogy of the unity and care seen in the relationship between husbands and wives: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” Eph.5.32. The language that Paul uses is very descriptive of Christ’s feelings for the Church which is His Body. Note the words: “saviour,” (soler), ‘deliverer’: “loved,” (agapo), linked with sacrifice: “gave,” (paradidomi), ‘yielded up’: “sanctify,” (hagiazo), ‘make holy’: “cleanse,” (katharizo), ‘purify’: “nourish,” (ektrepho), ‘bring to maturity’: “cherish,” (thalpo), ‘to warm’.
On a practical note, when we apply the concept of being members in the Church which is His Body to the local church, the Lord Jesus Christ is in control also. The members of a local church are under the Lordship and Headship of Christ and the governing authority of the Holy Spirit. He has also set in the local church the proper leadership to guide under His direction. This position of leadership can be found in the elders, deacons, and teachers.
One of the actions of the risen Christ was the giving of gifts, “Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” Eph.4.8. This refers not only to the giving of the Holy Spirit, but those gifts that qualify men for service. The chapter defining gifts is 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
THE ASCENSION – PRACTICAL APPLICATION TO BELIEVERS
Other chapters in this book will deal with the ascended Christ and His work as Mediator, Great High Priest, Advocate and Shepherd, and the blessings accruing to us as He ministers in these spheres. As we have seen already in this chapter, the ascension of Christ and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit made possible the numerous gifts of the Spirit that the Church enjoys. Also attention is drawn to the place prepared for His own, by the ascension into heaven of the Lord Jesus, Jn.14.2.
In addition to these things, Scripture shows that positionally, believers are already set with the Lord Jesus Christ in heavenly places, for we are made to share by grace, through faith, the resurrection and ascension of Christ, “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Eph.2.6. Consequently, our citizenship is now in heaven, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” Phil.3.20, and our affections are there, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” Col.3.1,2.
The ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ underscores the fact that believers are charged with the responsibility of implementing His will on earth. His parting words to the disciples commissioned them to teach the gospel, Matt.28.19,20; preach the gospel, Mk.16.15; witness for Christ, Lk.24.47,48; Acts 1.8. This has never been rescinded. In the various records of the commission, the Lord Jesus gave instructions as to the make-up of the audience to whom they had to preach, “all nations, every creature”, and the scope of their preaching, “all the world, uttermost part of the earth”. While some today would limit the audience to whom Christ is preached, and indeed limit the preaching altogether, remember that the commission given by the Lord Jesus stands, and will stand until the end of the dispensation of grace. Our Lord Jesus is now in heaven, from whence He will come to the air to receive us, Jn.14.3, but while we wait for that moment we have the responsibility and privilege of serving Him. Service for Christ is multifaceted, and is commensurate with the gift we have received from Him. When we are gathered to Him, each one will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and give account of:
- • deeds done in the body, 2Cor.5.10
- • how we have treated our brother, Rom.14.10-12
- • how we have built, 1Cor.3.13.
In the introductory paragraph, we mentioned the parable of the pounds, Lk.19.12-27, and of the talents, Matt.25.14-30, where on both occasions the nobleman or the Lord of the servants deposited an amount or talent of varying degrees with the servants. The instruction was clear, “Occupy till I come.” Lk.19.13. The nobleman required increase. The word “occupy” includes the meanings of, negotiate; trade; make use of the spiritual gifts; exercise them; lay them out. The service and development have to be carried on, not in the name of the servants nor for themselves, but for Christ, which shows that they must not be slothful, but diligent. The expression “till I come” suggests the certainty of Christ’s coming and as we have said above, the continuance of the gospel ministry and all of our active service until that time. Therefore, there is neither rest nor ease for Christ’s servants, but a continued series of labour and service, until the return of their Lord, when they shall receive their reward. Our reward or loss and subsequent position in the kingdom are directly proportional to our “occupying” till He come.
In conclusion of this section, we can do no better than quote the apostle Paul once more: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” Col.3.1-4.
Our Lord Jesus is now in heaven, having passed through the heavens, seated at the right hand of God. Everything is now set for the recommencement of the dispensational calendar, the next event being the coming to the air of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive His own. Meanwhile, in anticipation of that day, He acts on behalf of His people in the various ways outlined in this publication. It behoves us, also in anticipation of that day, to serve Him in the exercise of the gift given to us by the ascended Christ, as we work, witness and wait for Him.
- Crown Him the Lord of life
- Who triumphed o’er the grave,
- And rose victorious in the strife
- For those He came to save:
- His glories now we sing,
- Who died and rose on high,
- Who died eternal life to bring,
- And lives that death may die.
- Crown Him the Lord of heaven,
- Enthroned in worlds above,
- The King of kings to Whom is given
- The wondrous name of love:
- His reign shall know no end,
- And round His piercèd feet
- Fair flowers of Paradise extend
- Their fragrance ever sweet.
- (Matthew Bridges)
All references to Greek translations are taken from Zodhiates. “The Complete Word Study New Testament”. AGM Publishers, Chattanooga, 1994.