The New Testament tells us that forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was taken up into heaven (Mark, Luke, Acts). Throughout the NT, this event is regarded not merely as something than happened. More than that, the ascension points to a present reality full of meaning for the people of God until the second appearing of his Son. What exactly is that significance?
1. Acting as our great high priest, Jesus Christ ascended in order to intercede in behalf of his people.
G. C. Brewer was one of the great preachers of the early twentieth century. A sharp thinker and riveting speaker, Brewer did a lot to shape the Churches of Christ of the previous generation.
Several years ago, I heard about one of Brewer's sermon illustrations, the one he used when speaking about 1 John 1:7. The verse says, But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanses us of all sin.
After he quoted that verse, Brewer would then say, "You can remember that in the old automobiles, if the windshield wipers were moving, it was because you were moving them yourself. There was a knob on the dashboard. When the windshield had to be cleared, you reached up and turned the knob back and forth so that the blades would do their work. Now it's different," said Brewer. "Now, whenever it begins to rain, you simply lift a lever or flip a switch and the motorized windshield wipers move continuously until you turn them off again."
Then he made his point: "The newer, motorized windshield wipers are something like the blood of Jesus Christ in our lives. When you first become a Christian, the blood of Christ washes away your sins. But try as you might, you don't stop sinning. You need to be made clean again and again. And what this passage promises to us is that, as long as we walk in the light, the blood keeps on cleansing. It is not a one-time action. It is a continuous action for the Lord's faithful people."
Brewer was right. That is the truth of 1 John 1:7. What he might have gone on to say is that the truth of 1 John 1:7 is tied to what is said in 2:1: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
The blood of Christ keeps on cleansing. The reason that the blood keeps cleansing is because we have an advocate with the Father. And we have an advocate with the Father because following his work on earth, Jesus ascended to be in the exalted presence of God.
In Romans 8:33-34, Paul refers to Christ's intercession in our behalf: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
In Hebrews 7:23-25, a different writer says the same thing: Now there have been many priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Christians are redeemed. But we are nonetheless redeemed sinners. We have an on-going struggle with sin. Some days we do quite well in our fight. Other days, not well at all.
But when we do sin, so long as we are walking in the light as he is in the light, our sins are continually washed away. That's happening, says the New Testament, because in the presence of a holy God, the son is interceding in our behalf, defending those for whom he died. The ascension of Jesus Christ is a vital reality. Because he was resurrected and ascended to the place of highest honor, Jesus intercedes in our behalf in the presence of God the Father.