The significance of the Ascension is often overlooked in the modern church. We have special celebrations and holidays (holy days) to commemorate the birth (Christmas), the death (Good Friday), and the resurrection (Easter) of Christ. Most churches, however, make little or no mention of the Ascension. However, the Ascension is a redemptive event of profound importance. It marks the moment of Christ's highest point of exaltation prior to His return. It is in the Ascension that Christ entered into His glory.
Jesus described His departure from this earth as being better for us than His abiding presence. When He first announced His departure to the disciples, they were saddened by the news. However, they later came to realize the significance of this great event. Luke records the Ascension for us:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "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."
We notice that Jesus departed in a cloud. This is probably a reference to the Shekinah, the cloud of God's glory. The Shekinah exceeds in radiance any ordinary cloud. It is the visible manifestation of God's radiant glory. Therefore, the manner of Jesus' departure was not at all ordinary. It was a moment of remarkable splendor.
To ascend means "to go up" or "to rise." However, when the term ascension is used with respect to Christ, it has a deeper, richer, and more specific meaning. Jesus' ascension is unique. It goes beyond Enoch being taken directly into heaven or the departure of Elijah in a chariot of fire.
Jesus' ascension refers to His going to a special place for a special purpose. He goes to the Father, to the Father's right hand. He rises to the seat of cosmic authority. Jesus goes to heaven for His coronation, His confirmation as the King of Kings.
Jesus also ascended to enter the heavenly Holy of Holies to continue His work as our great High Priest. In heaven Jesus reigns as King and intercedes for us as our High Priest. From His position of ascended authority He poured out His Spirit upon the church. John Calvin remarked,
Being raised to heaven, he withdrew his bodily presence from our sight, not that he might cease to be with his followers, who are still pilgrims on the earth, but that he might rule both heaven and earth more immediately by his power.
When Jesus ascended to heaven for His coronation as King of Kings, He was seated at the right hand of God. The right hand of God is the seat of authority. From this position Jesus rules, administrates His kingdom, and presides as the judge of heaven and earth.
At the right hand of the Father, Jesus is seated as the Head of His body, the church. Yet in this position, Jesus' authority and governmental jurisdiction and administration extend beyond the sphere of His church to embrace the whole world. Though church and state may be distinguished within Jesus' domain, they are never separated or divorced. His authority extends over both. All earthly rulers are accountable to Him and will be judged by Him in His office as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Everyone in heaven and on earth is called of God to reverence Jesus' majesty, to be ruled by His hand, to do Him proper homage, and to submit to His power. Everyone will ultimately stand before Him as He sits in final judgment.
Jesus has the authority to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the church. But Jesus did not pour out the Spirit until He was first seated at the right hand of God. The Spirit ministers in subordination to the Father and the Son, who together sent Him to apply Christ's work of salvation to believers.
While seated at the right hand of God, Jesus not only exercises His role as King of Kings, He also fulfills the role of cosmic judge. He is judge over all nations and all people. Although Jesus rules as our judge, He has also been appointed by the Father to be our advocate. He is our defense attorney. At the last judgment our court-appointed defense lawyer will be the presiding judge. A foretaste of Jesus' intercession on behalf of saints can be seen in the martyrdom of Stephen:
But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:55-56)