The Gospel story doesn’t end with a distressed Christ. It doesn’t end with a crucified Christ. Nor does it even end with a resurrected Christ. It ends with an ascended Christ, who is Lord and King, reigning on high from heaven, awaiting the appointed time for His return.
Nevertheless, the ascension of Jesus into heaven is arguably the least-considered aspect of His work. The average person in the street will probably know something about the birth of Jesus. They will probably know something about the death of Jesus. But if you were to ask them where Jesus presently is or what He is currently doing, they would probably give you a blank stare.
Still, the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is of paramount importance, and the Scriptures encourage us to focus on the fact that He is, indeed, an ascended Christ.
What Happened at the Ascension?
In order to begin to grasp the significance of Christ’s ascension, we first must understand, even very simply, what happened at this event. The Gospel of Luke offers this account:
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 24:50–53)
In a sense, the ascension marks the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. It is, as Luke puts it in his second volume, the end of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1, emphasis added). Christ finished His earthly ministry but was only just starting His heavenly work.
J. I. Packer illustrates the ascension by saying, “It is as if, having travelled successfully in the firm’s interest, the Son was now recalled to headquarters to become managing director.”1 The Son had traveled on the Father’s business and had completed the task He’d been given; now He was going back to heaven to be the Father’s right-hand man.
Jesus departed from His disciples with His hands raised in blessing upon them. Is that the picture you have of Christ in your life: able, ready, and willing to bless?
Five Ways Christ Is Working in His Ascended State
Now that Jesus is back in heaven, we are led to ask a very basic question: What is He doing? Though His earthly work is finished, surely He’s still doing something.
Well, He does a tremendous amount. His job description, if you like, is vast. It’s a longer list than a simple article can contain, but here are five key aspects of Christ’s present ministry.
1. Jesus Christ governs the universe.
The Lord Jesus Christ reigns sovereignly over all things. The book of Hebrews makes this plain:
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3, emphasis added)
Our Lord returned to His Father in heaven, and He is quite literally running the world. That should be enough in itself, shouldn’t it? But we can and should be more precise in what Christ’s governing all things entails.
2. Jesus Christ rules His church.
Christ is not only governing the universe, but He is also ruling His church:
[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church. (Eph. 1:20–22)
It is the Lord Jesus who is the head of the church. Pastors might be tempted to think that they have some semblance of control over congregations, but when it comes right down to it, every pastor simply serves as an undershepherd in the ministry of “the chief Shepherd,” Christ (1 Peter 5:4).
3. Jesus Christ helps the members of His church.
Jesus Christ also actively helps the members of the church that He rules. You find this emphasis all the way through the book of Hebrews. (In fact, Hebrews is probably the best sourcebook on the present work of Christ in His ascended role.)
Hebrews 2:18 says, “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” The same truth is applied again in a familiar verse: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Not only is Jesus powerful enough to help us as ruler of all, but He actually loves to bless His children. In fact, Jesus is far more willing to bless us than we are to even take the time to ask Him to bless us. Recall that according to Luke 24:50, Jesus departed from His disciples with His hands raised in blessing upon them. Is that the picture you have of Christ in your life: able, ready, and willing to bless?
It is of tremendous encouragement to be reminded that “there’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No, not one! No, not one!”2 Often it takes the times of deep heartache, despair, or difficulty to remind us of just what an important and wonderful reality this is: that Christ is our ultimate help, our perfect guide.
Jesus is far more willing to bless us than we are to even take the time to ask Him to bless us.
4. Jesus Christ intercedes for His people.
Jesus is also pleading our case. Romans 8:31 asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Well, if we’re honest, it seems like plenty can be against us! The devil is against us, and he is the great accuser. Our friends sometimes let us down and accuse us. Even our own hearts accuse us. So what do we do? How can Romans 8:31 carry any weight for the believer? Where do we look?
We look up, because we have an “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1). We look to Jesus, because He has entered heaven “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). He “indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34), which means that He is intervening in our interest—and He’s doing so in a way that guarantees our welfare by ensuring that what He died to secure for us actually becomes ours.
5. Jesus Christ prepares a place for us.
Finally, our Lord’s ascended work on our behalf isn’t just to help us in the present but also to prepare an eternal home for all His people:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1–3)
How is Jesus doing that, and what does it look like? Well, we can’t be certain, but we at least know that our Lord is readying more than enough rooms for all His children—and one day soon, He will return to gather us to His heavenly mansion.
When we drag ourselves before the ascended Christ’s throne, embarrassed and bedraggled and feeling weak and inadequate, we discover it to be a throne of grace—a throne at which He gives us far better than we deserve.
With Us Evermore
Yes, Jesus left the earth, but the ascension doesn’t mean that He is absent. Quite the opposite! It actually means that Jesus is present. He’s absent from us physically because He’s seated at the right hand of the Father on high, but through the Holy Spirit He sent after His ascension (John 16:7), He is with us now and forever—“always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
And what’s more, from His place in heaven, “he always lives to make intercession for” us (Heb. 7:25). So when we drag ourselves before the ascended Christ’s throne, embarrassed and bedraggled and feeling weak and inadequate, we discover it to be a throne of grace—a throne at which He gives us far better than we deserve.
1 J. I. Packer, Revelations of the Cross (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 56.
2 Johnson Oatman Jr., “No, Not One!” (1895).