Christ’s Ascension and the Present Virus

Almost any article today could have the word “Coronavirus” in the title. This small organism has changed most of our lives and continues to affect us in many ways. While some of our questions simply require a lot of wisdom, our most fundamental perplexities still find their answers in Scriptures, and there is a sense in which Christ’s ascension to heaven is particularly pertinent.

The Meaning of Christ’s Ascension

Christ’s Resurrection gets a lot of attention. This year, most Christians felt terribly deprived when they couldn’t celebrate it together with other believers. But the Ascension—which most liturgies place at 40 days after Easter—comes and goes with very little notice. For many Christians, “Christ has ascended!” doesn’t have the same force as “Christ is risen!”

This is, in part, because most churches have eliminated liturgical dates. But there is also a prevailing ignorance of what the ascension means. It’s often seen as a natural appendix to the Resurrection. He rose, and ascended to heaven. We take it for granted. Given that he could not stay here forever, where else would he go?

But historically, the church has given much weight to Christ’s ascension, because of the significant implications it has for the world, and especially for Christians.

The Heidelberg Catechism lists three main benefits Christians receive from Christ’s ascension:

“First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in Heaven. Secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Thirdly, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on earth.”[1]

At a time when the present circumstances seem particularly pressing—when newscasters lead us to believe that all news is breaking news, and when many are substituting the initial sense of confusion with a desire to do just about anything in order to get their lives back to normal—Christ’s ascension tells us that there is much more than what we see with our eyes.

Christ’s ascension didn’t mark his retirement. His powerful cry from the cross, “It is finished,” meant that he has accomplished everything that was necessary for our salvation, not that he would pass on to a state of inertia.

To the contrary, in his ascension, Christ has inaugurated a new age, where he operates in heaven as true Man and true God, while keeping his promise to be with us, “according to His Godhead, majesty, grace, and Spirit,”[2] “always, to the end of the age.”[3]

The Comfort of Christ’s Ascension

Christ is in heaven as the powerful King who is protecting his church, and as the loving Husband who is preparing a place for his bride. He’s there as our Advocate, to intercede for us with the force of one who has personally experienced the onslaught of temptations and to minister on our behalf in the true heavenly tabernacle. He’s there as true Man, representative of the human race, reminding us that he has earned an eternal, heavenly place for us in spite of our rebellion. And he’s there as true God “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”[4]

And that’s not all. Christ told his disciples that he had to leave in order to send his Spirit, who gave them power to be his witnesses in this world, who has been enriching the church with all the gifts that are necessary for the ministry of the gospel, and who keeps abiding and working in every believer, comforting, leading, sanctifying, and helping each of us to raise our eyes to Christ and all his benefits—even when we feel most afflicted by the changing tides of the world around us.

This world, with all its problems, viruses, statistics, predictions, regulations and counter-regulations, belongs to what the Bible calls “this age,” an age that is inexorably marching towards its end—as opposed to the glorious and eternal “age to come” that Christ has already inaugurated.

Living in Light of the Ascension

Christ’s ascension, with all that it entails, is so important for Christians that the 19th-century Dutch pastor and hymnist George Washington Bethune wrote,

“Except we understand and personally apprehend the doctrine of this great fact, it is impossible to enjoy the best comforts of our holy religion, or to acquire the divine strength essential for our perseverance in a Christian life.”[5]

It’s a bold statement, but Bethune was not the first to assert it. It has been a tenet of the Christian faith since its beginning. In the 17th century, John Owen called Christ's ascension  “the great foundation of [the church’s] hope and consolation in this world.”[6]

When we understand Christ’s ascension and what it means for us, even in these days of coronavirus, we can lift our eyes to heaven, not as a pie in the sky, but as a reality that has already begun. This is a reality that affects our lives here and now, and that we will soon experience in full. As Paul said, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”[7]

What’s more, because of Christ’s ascension, we can trust that the Spirit will produce in us the grace we need to live as Paul instructs us in the rest of the same epistle and as God has directed us to do in all of Scriptures. As Owen said,

“...without the continual actings of the office, power, and care of Christ, the church could not be preserved one moment. And the darkness of our faith herein is the cause of all our diseonsolations, and most of our weaknesses in obedience.”[8]

Because of Christ’s ascension, we can be “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed,” as we keep in mind that...

“...he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. … For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”[9]

And, because of Christ’s ascension, we can focus on the commandment he gave his disciples before leaving: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – a commandment prefaced by the very fact that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.[10]

A daily recollection of these biblical truths reorganizes our priorities and keeps us grounded on what is real and lasting, even when visible realities seem to have lost their bearings.


Simonetta Carr is a mother of eight and a homeschool educator for twenty years. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and a translator of Christian works into Italian. Simonetta is the author of numerous books, including Weight of a Flame and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.


Related Links

"Ascension Matters" by Tim Bertolet

"Jesus Christ: Risen, Ascended, and Enthroned" by Mark Johnston

"He Ascended into Heaven" by Philip Ryken

"The Ascension of Jesus Christ" by Paul Kooistra

John Owen (Christian Biographies For Young Readers) by Simonetta Carr


Notes

[1] The Heidelberg Catechism, 1563, Q/A 49. 

[2] Ibid., Q/A 47

[3] Matthew 28:20

[4] 1 Peter 3:22

[5] George Washington Bethune, Expository Lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism, Volume 1, New York: Sheldon & Co., 1864, 454

[6] John Owen, Works, ed. by William H. Goold, Vol. 1, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1862, 235

[7] Colossians 3:1-2

[8] John Owen, Works, 252.

[9] 2 Corinthians4:8-9, 14, 17-18.

[10] Matthew 28:18-19.