Lifted to the Throne

A mother buys her little boy a helium balloon from a vendor at the fair. Its shiny foil liner is shaped like his favorite cartoon character. He clutches the balloon string tightly as they make their way to the Ferris wheel. All at once, a dog from the crowd barks loudly behind them. The boy jumps suddenly and loses his grip on the string. Forgetting about the dog, he lunges upward to retrieve his prized balloon, but to no avail. It floats aimlessly and steadily upward to the sky. The boy and his mother watch sadly as it fades into a small, gray dot among the clouds, until at last it is impossible to see.

Have you ever lost a helium balloon to the sky? How did that make you feel? How do you think the eleven disciples felt when they experienced the same thing with Christ?
What is the ascension of Christ?

The ascension of Christ is that crucial moment in which he physically, visibly ascended from earth to the sky as his eleven disciples looked on. This happened on a hilltop in Bethany, just a short distance outside Jerusalem, forty days after his resurrection.

For whatever reason, we seem underappreciate the ascension of Christ. We tend to view his crucifixion and resurrection as a set of major, significant events on one hand and his ascension as a minor, tacked-on event on the other. But the ascension is hardly a minor event from the standpoint of Scripture.

Christ not only predicted this event (Matt 26:64), but he portrayed it as a fulfillment of Daniel’s great prophecy and vision of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13-14). Luke recorded the event at the end of his gospel (Luke 24:49-51), then he recorded it again at the start of Acts (Acts 1:9-11).

But John’s gospel provides the most numerous references to the ascension. He writes of Christ speaking about “going to the Father” six times (John 14:9, 12, 28; 16:10, 17, 28), four times he refers to his ascent (1:51; 3:13; 6:62; 20:17), he refers once to “departing to the Father” (13:1), and he speaks once of “leaving the world and going to the Father” (16:28).

What’s more, in Acts, all five of Peter’s sermons refer to the ascension either directly or indirectly, and so do most other speeches in Acts. Beyond this, references to Christ’s ascension appear throughout the New Testament (NT) letters, esp. in the first half of Paul’s letters, in which he lays a theological foundation for the practical teaching that follows. Knowing this reveals that a clear and personal view of Christ’s ascension to the throne of heaven is crucial for us if we want to develop a complete Christian worldview and if we will work out a thoroughly biblical, God-honoring lifestyle. (I will demonstrate this for us from Paul’s letter to the Colossians shortly.)

Finally, we see Christ in the climactic, futuristic book of Revelation sitting on the throne of universal authority and power in the heavens, affirming the continued, present reality of his ascension (Rev 1:13; 4:2, 9-10; 5:6, 13).

So, we see that the ascension of Christ is that crucial, final event in Christ’s earthly ministry which completed his work on our behalf and which completed the process of his “lifting up.” About the ascension of Christ, theologian Michael Horton says this:

“We typically treat the ascension as little more than a dazzling exclamation point for the resurrection rather than a new event in its own right.”

We need to correct this error and view the ascension of Christ as a climactic event which completed Christ’s exaltation and established him as our rightful Savior and King. So, as our exalted, triumphant king, what is Christ doing in heaven today now that he has ascended to the throne?

The ascension positioned Christ to send the Holy Spirit.  

By dying for our sins through the crucifixion and defeating sin and death through the resurrection, Christ made a way for all who believe on him to be cleansed from the guiltiness and power of sin. This meant that those who believe on him could now become a place of permanent residence and relationship for the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7)

By sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within his followers, the personal presence of God has expanded exponentially from Christ’s personal, physical location at any given time to the personal, physical location of believers around the world. And the Holy Spirit enables each one of us to live as Christ’s representatives, speak as Christ’s representatives, and serve as Christ’s representatives, by God’s power and wisdom, not our own.

The ascension positioned Christ to be our mediator.  

By ascending to heaven, Christ established his personal presence at the throne of God, situated in the heavenly Temple, where the immediate presence of God dwells. From this position, he serves as our continual, regular intercessor, mediating between us and God.

Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Rom 8:34)

This means that whenever Satan, other people, or even our own conscience accuse us of sin, defends us against such accusations not because we are innocent but because he himself has already received the full consequences for our sin and has given to us the perfect record of his righteousness. Similar to how the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights upholds our freedom as American citizens by their permanent presence in Washington, D.C., so the presence of Christ defends our forgiven, righteous standing before God.

The ascension positioned Christ to care for the church.  

By ascending to heaven, Christ transitioned from shepherding his close, eleven disciples to shepherding his followers throughout the entire world.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Eph 5:29)

From this we see that as a compassionate king, he feeds and takes care of his churches throughout the world. He does this by providing churches with pastors and teachers, who will feed and lead his people according to the Word of God. And he does this as well by providing every believer with personal, spiritual abilities (we call them spiritual gifts) by which we can serve the church in a way that is especially effective and meaningful.

To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Eph 4:7)

He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ … (Eph 4:11-12)

Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share ... (Eph 4:15)

So, the ascension of Christ positioned Christ to send us the Holy Spirit, serve as our mediator, and care for churches throughout the world.

The ascension positioned Christ to come back to earth again.

Theologian Patrick Schreiner is right when he says:

“Without [the ascension], the story of Christ’s work is incomplete. Without it, other doctrines become misaligned. Without it, our good news is truncated. Without it, Christ is not declared Lord and Messiah. The Son of God did not come down to earth to stay. He arrived in order that he might return, and then return again.”

Just as Christ departed from the earth personally and physically to reign from the heavens through the ascent, so he will return to the earth personally and physically to reign from the earth over the new, restored Creation that is coming. This is what two angels told Christ’s original eleven disciples immediately after the ascension.

Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)

This expectation and hope should be a major source of hope and a key motivating factor in our lives as followers of Christ. Notice how the NT emphasizes this future return:

Eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ … (1 Cor 1:7)

Wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Ths 1:10)

Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … (Tit 2:13)

Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20)

Other similar statements appear in other references, as well. How seriously does this future, physical return of Christ affect and alter your worldview, influencing and motivating your thoughts, feelings, actions, choices, and priorities in life? And this leads us to an important question.

Why is the ascension of Christ important for us?

When we read about Christ being “lifted up,” “raised up,” or “exalted,” we should envision not just one moment in his life but three. We should envision his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, because together, these three events complete the full cycle or sequence of the exaltation of Christ. These are not three isolated, disconnected events but are three integrally connected events. What is the significance of each event in this cycle?

  • In the crucifixion, we see Christ as our suffering servant.
  • In the resurrection, we see Christ as our triumphant warrior.
  • In the ascension, we see Christ as our reigning king.

What do these three moments in Christ’s “lifting up” reveal to us about Christ’s relationship to us?

  • The crucifixion reveals that as our servant, he empathizes with our suffering and is ready to forgive our sins. This should inspire us to trust in him as our Savior, confess our sins honestly, and enjoy a clear conscience and joyful heart.
  • The resurrection reveals that as our warrior, he enables us to overcome the power of sin and the fear of death. This should inspire us to say no to temptation and enjoy a confident, hope-filled spirit.
  • The ascension reveals that as our king, he expects us to obey his commands and bring others under his reign. This should inspire us to say yes to Christ’s commands and enjoy a peaceful, persevering mindset.

Which of these events are most meaningful and impactful to you? We who are followers of Christ, we who have turned to and trust in Christ alone as our God and Savior – we must take each of these events in the exaltation of Christ to heart so deeply that we reflect on their reality often and let their implications influence our lives in meaningful ways.

  • When we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and confess our sins or when we allow the ongoing anxiety of guilt, unforgiveness, and bitterness to cloud our emotions, we reveal a deficient appreciation and acceptance of Christ’s crucifixion.
  • When we consistently give way to the temptations of sin or when we allow various fears and phobias to cloud our emotions, we reveal a deficient awareness and acknowledgement of Christ’s resurrection.
  • And when we form our priorities around self-expression and self-gratification or do little to nothing to bring others into a close and obedient relationship with Christ, we reveal a deficient appreciation and acknowledgement of Christ’s ascension.

And it is this final observation that we will focus upon today – learning to appreciate and acknowledge the reality and implications of Christ’s ascension. In other words, we must take the reality of Christ’s ascension so closely and deeply to heart that we let it change the way we think, feel, and live. It must become more than a passing Sunday School story but a life-altering event instead.

To demonstrate how this should play out for us, we will look at Paul’s letters to churches. We already saw today that Phil 3:20 says that since Christ, our triumphant king, is seated on the throne of heaven, then our ultimate citizenship and place of belonging – our more important kingdom, the spiritual one – is in heaven. Paul says a similar thing in his letter to the church at Colosse:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:1-4)

He shows that because we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, so we are also joined with him on the throne of heaven. We should frequently remind ourselves of this amazing fact and insist on living with a heavenly, Christ-focused mindset. We must live as though Christ did suffer for our sins, did raise from the dead, and did take his place as God’s triumphant king. If we believe this, then we must submit to him as King and trust him as King as well. How can we do this? Paul outlines this for us in Col 3:5-4:6.

We should take off sinful behavior.

A first way that we show our belief in Christ’s ascension to the throne of the universe is by removing sinful behaviors, habits, and communication from our lives (Col 3:5-11). Paul says we should “put to death” (kill off) and “put off” (like taking off dirty clothes) ungodly behaviors and speech.

These things include sexual behavior outside of marriage, lustful behavior, harmful habits, and materialism. They also include anger, violence, crude, inappropriate language, and dishonesty. Making such changes is neither easy nor natural, but since Christ is ruling as our King from heaven, we can and must give serious, intentional effort to ridding these behaviors from our lives.

We should put on Christlike behavior.

The opposite is also true (Col 3:12-15). As Paul says, we should not only “take off” sinful behaviors, habits, and communication, but we should also “put on” (like putting on new clothes) godly attitudes, behaviors, and speech instead.

We can and must give serious, intentional effort to cultivating in our hearts and minds: an affectionate heart, nice manners, humility, a gentle spirit, a willingness to suffer long and put up with one another’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, and a commitment to forgive one another rather than hold grudges. We are to let the peace that comes from Christ’s reign saturate our inner being so that we can relate and work well together as a church and be thankful for one another (not bitter or frustrated with one another).

We should serve and worship together enthusiastically.

Since Christ is ruling and reigning as King, we must focus our hearts and minds upon his Word, applying his word regularly to all challenges and decisions in life in wisdom (Col 3:16-17). We should encourage and teach one another to do so and should also listen to and sing Christian songs which teach us serious, substantive biblical truth!

We should accept our God-given family roles.

By doing this, we should allow the truth of Christ’s ascension and reign as King to extend its influence into not only our church family but also our domestic family and relationships (Col 3:18-4:1).

  • Wives should submit to their husbands. This is neither easy nor natural, and often it is undeserved. Nevertheless, so long as a husband is not requiring a wife to sin, she should follow her husband’s leadership and meet her husband’s needs because Christ is on the throne of heaven as her triumphant king.
  • Husbands should lovingly care for their wives. This also is neither easy nor natural, and often it is undeserved. Nevertheless, so long as a wife is not enticing her husband to sin or pressuring him to disobey God, he should meet her needs and show unconditional love to her, while also refusing to allow a bitter spirit to develop towards her. Again, this is both necessary and possible because Christ is on the throne of heaven as his triumphant king!
  • Children (referring specifically to children who are living at home under the care and supervision of their parents) must obey their parents. Once again, this is neither easy nor natural, but it is both necessary and possible because Christ is on the throne of heaven as the triumphant king.
  • Fathers (a word which seems to refer to both mother and father while emphasizing the father’s ultimate headship and responsibility) must be kind and gracious leaders and caretakers of their homes (esp. their children), which also is neither easy nor natural. Yet it is necessary and possible because Christ is on the throne of heaven as the triumphant king.
  • Finally, we must reliable, hard-working employees and generous employees who treat those who work for us properly. Why? Because Christ – our Master – does so for us and is ruling on the throne of heaven as our triumphant king.

Today, as the NT said would be the case, we have a general problem. We have minimized the ascension and exaltation of Christ to the throne of heaven to a minor, unimportant place. The idea (and reality) that Christ is the King of the Universe, is the suffering/resurrected Ruler, and is ruling and reigning over our lives and our church today influences our lives very little. We look forward to his future return, but his present reign seems relatively inconsequential. But it should be the opposite!

What I am really describing is the spirit of “antichrist” which is in the world. Many believers, even, have adopted a mindset about their present circumstances and relationships which places self on the throne of their lives rather than Christ. When we do this, we reject the Lordship and reign of Christ in our lives.

We do this by making excuses for why we cannot take of sinful behaviors, put on good behaviors, and worship and serve faithfully and lovingly with our church. We do this when we make excuses for why we will not submit to our husbands, love our wives, obey our parents, and care for our children.

It’s crucial for us to reject this self-exalting worldview which denies in reality any belief we claim to have in the goodness, rightness, and wisdom of Christ’s care and commands as our ruling, triumphant king.

Before closing, we must mention two more important ways that we must allow the ascension and reign of Christ to influence our worldview, priorities, and behavior.

We should practice regular, thankful prayer.

Paul teaches this in his letter to the Colossian church (Col 4:2-3). We should pray for ourselves, our families, our church, and other believers we know. This is a key response to Christ’s ascension, especially when we know that he is in heaven as our divine and human mediator and intercessor.

Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

So, confident and consistent prayer to God the Father through the help of Christ should be one way that the ascension and enthronement of Christ should change our approach to life.
We should actively seek to bring other people under Christ’s reign.

And finally, since Christ has ascended and is reigning from the throne of heaven, we must actively seek to bring other people under Christ’s reign. We know that this – in fact – is a significant response to Christ’s ascension not only because Paul speaks about being active, effective witnesses for Christ to the church at Colosse (Col 4:3-6), but because this is the primary response (or responsibility) that Christ himself emphasized when he spoke to his original follower about his ascension.

He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:46-51)

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)

Of all that Christ could have said at the moment of or in connection to his ascension, he said this – that he intended for his followers not only to submit to his reign and obey his commands, but to reach and teach others to do the same. Rather than letting the world infiltrate our hearts and lives with an antichrist philosophy and worldview, we are to take the truth that Christ reigns to the unbelieving world, showing them by our lives what it looks like to submit to Christ in our lifestyles, relationships, and worship while encouraging them to believe on Christ and submit to his reign as well.

When a sports team wins a championship, its fans behave and speak differently. They behave and speak more confidently, enthusiastically, and openly. We should do the same because Christ has triumphed over sin, death, and hell. He is reigning triumphantly from the throne of heaven and is coming back to reign on earth personally and physically, too.

When a political candidate wins an office, his or her supporters also behave and speak more confidently, enthusiastically, and openly. This is even more significant than a sports championship because when a candidate becomes a government officially, that person actually enforces, influences, and makes laws and policies, determining what happens in the world.

Since we know that Christ has not only died and rose again but is now ascended and reigning from the throne of heaven, never to be unseated, we know that whatever he promises will occur and whatever he commands we must obey. When he tells us – as the king of the universe – to put off sinful behavior and put on Christlike attitudes, to love our wives and submit to our husbands, and to be intentional witnesses for Christ, we have no choice but to do those things, for in doing those things, we honor his authority and announce that he reigns.

May we rise above the antichrist spirit of our moment in time, submit to and obey the commands of Christ our King, and teach others to do the same as we wait for him to return in the same way that he ascended. For unlike a balloon that floats away into the sky, he will return. Will he find us living as though he reigns?

Discussion Questions
  • Why do you think that the ascension is not as popular to talk about as the death and resurrection of Christ?
  • What feelings does union with Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension bring about for you?
    • What do you think about it?
  • Why do we need the Holy Spirit? Why do we not feel this need very often?
  • What is the real-life evidence of Jesus’ care and shepherding leadership for the church?
  • What would change if Jesus did not ascend to heaven?
  • How should the ascension (and our union with Christ) affect our decision-making process?
  • How do we close the gap between doctrinal statements and believed realities?
  • What are some secular ideologies that affect…
    • Our behavior like in the categories in Colossians 3?
    • Our congregational singing?
    • Our roles in the home?
    • How do these ideologies contradict a lifestyle of submission to Christ?
  • Why do we feel so deeply that suffering is so unfair and unjust?

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