Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ascension of Jesus Christ, 2

In the previous post, I hinted that believers like myself, who don't have much experience with the Christian calendar, may not have heard much about the ascension of Jesus. For us, there wasn't an annual Ascension Day to mark the time, raise the question, and speak of the meaning of Christ's exaltation.

I should clarify that I think it's alright that in groups like my own Churches of Christ we don't observe Ascension Day. But I want to add that it would not be alright if we were to neglect the Bible's teaching about the ascension and it's current significance. Have we neglected this doctrine?

Restoration Serials Index is an index of articles and lectures from dozens of journals, magazines, and lectureships connected with the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. It indexes everything from the Spiritual Sword to New Wineskins magazine, everything from the Memphis School of Preaching Lectures to the Lectures at Pepperdine University. I don't know how far back the indexing began. As I remember, the earliest printed versions go back to the 1970s. At any rate, I often use RSI to find out what people have talked about, what they are talking about, and where, among the Churches of Christ. RSI allows you to search by keyword, subject, author, or title. You can also limit your search to a certain periodical or lectureship. It's a great resource that probably isn't used as much as it should be. I spent a few minutes at RSI doing some comparisons, and here's what I found.

A subject search under "elders" rendered 1239 hits.

The term "music" gave me 923 hits.

"Deacons" 116

"False teachers" 180

And what of the "Ascension"? 28 hits. . . .

For what it's worth, virtually all of those 28 references were to serial publications that most of our people would call "conservative" or "traditional." A search for "ascension" in Wineskins renders 0 hits. New Wineskins, 0. Pepperdine Lectures, 0. Integrity, 0. Leaven, 0. Restoration Review, 0. No, not all of those publish more than once a year. And not all of them have existed the entire time that RSI has been indexing. However, by comparison, searching for "ascension" under Gospel Advocate brings up 7 hits.

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According to the Scriptures the exaltation of Jesus is a matter of great importance, not simply because it happened, but because of what it means for Christians until that time when Jesus comes again. It's not something that my people have thought about very much. And that's one of the reasons why I want to write these posts.

The best place to begin thinking about the ascension of Christ is with the New Testament's most basic assertions about it. Whenever we read the story of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts, a featured part is the resurrected Christ being taken up into glory:

After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied them. (Mark 16:19-20, textual questions aside)

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:50-53)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:8-11)

Clearly, the ascension of Jesus is a significant part of the accounts, especially those written by Luke. But there's more.

Not only do the Scriptures tell us about this event, but whenever the whole gospel story is told in what might be called "short form," the ascension is frequently a part of the thumbnail sketch, as though it were a key part of all that God is doing through Jesus. Perhaps the best example of this is found in 1 Timothy 3:16, where Paul offers up this piece of poetry:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
Another example is found in Hebrews chapter 1, verse 3:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Notice that in this verse, just two phrases are used to describe the work of Christ. The first points back to the crucifixion: After he provided purification for sins. The second refers to the exaltation of Christ: he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

To sum up, the New Testament reports to us the story of Jesus ascending into heaven to be with the Father (Mark, Luke, Acts). In addition, it is not unusual to find the NT letters reflecting on this event as though it were a major plank in the teaching about Christ. More than that, the NT regards the ascension not merely as an historical fact, but as a present reality full of significance for us until Jesus comes again.

So what exactly is that significance? What is the up-to-the-minute meaning of the ascension? More in the next post. But up to this point, what are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to more posts.


Carisse said...

Thanks for mentioning RSI -- it's great to hear about its being used for its fundamental purpose of studying the literature of CofC writers!

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for reading, Darin.

Carisse, WE should be thanking YOU and the other people who have made Restoration Serials Index the uniquely valuable tool that it is. Come to think of it, after I was introduced to it by Don Meredith twenty years ago, I've used it many, many times. So thank you for your work.

preacherman said...

I want you to know how much I have enjoyed this series. You are doing a great job on topic. Keep it brother!
I hope you have a great day!
Kinney Mabry