Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:44-53 (ESV)
We almost have to wonder why Jesus, after His resurrection, didn’t just stick around. After all, he did rise from the dead. If he just stuck around we wouldn’t have to have faith, we could just look at Him and see. Imagine if Jesus were bodily present with us today- if we could invite Him to dinner, or see Him on TV, or subscribe to His podcast. Hanging out with Jesus, asking Him direct questions, getting the facts straight from Him, would be amazing. But it was necessary, for Him to prepare a place for us in eternity, for Jesus to return to His Father. His bodily presence on this earth couldn’t last forever.
The death and resurrection of Jesus, we get. The ascension, when Jesus returns to God the Father, we don’t understand so easily, even though Jesus’ bodily ascension to heaven is part of the declaration of faith we affirm in the Apostle’s Creed: He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
We can’t escape speaking of the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) when we discuss the ascension of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the more difficult concepts within Christianity. We really find it difficult to understand that God is One, (the I AM God) but is three Persons in One.
It may be helpful to think of the Persons of the Trinity as how God comes to us, even though this is not a complete and full understanding. God, the Father, creator, the eternal, beyond time and space- comes to us physically in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Holy Spirit is the breath of God who is part of, in through and with creation. Of course all three are One, and this is really hard to wrap our heads around.
John 14 in its entirety is Jesus’ full explanation of why He has to return to God the Father.
(Jesus said): “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:25-27.
Jesus ascending to the Father is a wonderful point of hope for us. By faith we know that we too will ascend to heaven on the last day, as the apostle Paul explains:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)
It is encouraging to know these two things as we live in this paradox of now, but not yet: Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Until that day when the trumpet sounds, we have been given the gift of God the Holy Spirit available and interceding for us as our Helper. The ascension of Jesus points us to the place He is preparing for us. This is a great encouragement and hope indeed!