Sunday before Ascension Day – May 9, 2021
Scripture reading – Jen
“After his suffering, Jesus presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift of my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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’.”
- Ascension Day is celebrated this Thursday, May 13: just four days away. Today we are going to look at the fascinating topic of our Lord’s ascension to heaven, what it entailed, and what happened afterward.
- But first, we need to go back in time to his death on Passover or Good Friday (14 Nisan or April 7, AD 30). Jesus celebrated the Passover meal on Thursday night, the beginning of the Hebrew day; he instituted the New Covenant; went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He was arrested, tried and tortured from before sunrise to mid-morning when he was crucified from 9am-3pm. After he died, his body was put in the tomb while his spirit descended to the place of the dead, sheol. There he remained Friday afternoon, Saturday and part of Sunday (3 days). Then His spirit rejoined his body, his body was transformed into a glorious body, and that body was resurrected on Easter Sunday, before sunrise.
- Then for the next 40 days, he appeared to his disciples on earth before going back to heaven. Why? Why not go back to the Father immediately? At least three reasons:
- First, (last week), he needed to “wean” them off his physical presence.
- Second, he needed to teach his disciples “about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3): new command, the law of love, role of power, extent of authority, the role of the Spirit.
- Third, he needed to allow for the proper length of time to pass to coordinate his death on Pesach, Passover, with the sending of the Spirit on Shavout, the Jewish feast of Weeks or the Feast of Pentecost. Part of God’s eternal plan was that Jesus, the Passover Lamb, would die on Passover and then would send the Spirit on Pentecost, which always comes 50 days after Passover (Giving of the law; first fruits of wheat harvest vs Christian converts).
- After these 40 days, Jesus ascended to the Father, taking with him all the righteous dead who previously had been kept in sheol. And it’s that ascension that we celebrate this Thursday. You might want to think about: how do you want to acknowledge that day? (Simple reading, meditation)
- So, what did Jesus do then? What happened during that week between Ascension Day and Pentecost? That’s what we will consider today.
- We will draw largely from the NT book of Hebrews. And we’re going to see that two very important things happened, both of which were essential to our salvation: Jesus was invested as High Priest and Jesus was coronated King of Kings.
- Jesus was invested as high priest
- Investiture is the public ceremony recognizing a person who has been appointed to a high office. In this case, Jesus was being formally recognized as high priest of all His people under the terms of the New Covenant.
- Under the covenant God made with Israel, the high priest, beginning with Aaron, was invested in a public ceremony. He would be ceremonially washed with water, anointed with oil (representing the Holy Spirit), then the blood of a sacrifice was applied to his right ear, right thumb, and right big toe. Beautiful picture…. Fast forward 1400 years. Jesus is made high priest of the new covenant. He is washed in the waters of baptism; anointed with the Holy Spirit himself; then 3 ½ years later, his own blood anoints his ear, thumb and toe.
- Under the Mosaic covenant, the high priest would make atonement each year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. He did it by sacrificing a bull for his own unintentional sins and a goat for the sins of the people and he would sprinkle the blood on the furniture in the tabernacle. This act of sacrifice and sprinkling of blood was like hitting the reset button to make holy once again the tabernacle, altar, utensils, the people, the priests, and everything within the temple precincts. He wore a breastplate with the 12 stones, each representing a different tribe of Israel.
- In the NT book of Hebrews, a letter written to Jewish Christians on the verge of reverting to their pre-Christian Jewish beliefs, the author makes it clear that God’s covenant with Israel was a shadow, a faint reflection of a far deeper reality: what transpires in heaven. Moses was commanded to build the OT tabernacle according to plans that Moses was shown by God (Ex 26:30).
- The letter to the Hebrews explains that God has replaced
- the old covenant with the new,
- the old high priest with Jesus,
- and the OT tabernacle/later temple with the true heavenly temple: the place where God dwells in heaven with his vast entourage of angels and other spiritual beings.
- And it was to this heavenly temple that Jesus went after his ascension. Here are two examples:
“…we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tabernacle that the Lord set up, not man.”
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands (earthly tabernacle), which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”
- So, after his ascension, Christ presented himself before the Father as having offered the final sacrifice for sins; his wounds are in plain view, but there is no need to sprinkle the most holy place with blood. And Jesus is now publicly acknowledged to be high priest before all the millions of worshipping spiritual beings in heaven and all the saints who have ever lived: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”
- And, as the Father recognizes the efficacy of Jesus’ atoning work to perfect us forever, he invites him to sit beside him. Jesus’ work of sacrifice was over:
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
- In Jesus’ high priestly duties, the Father made a way for us to be restored to a face-to-face friendship and fellowship with Him. This is the significance of the curtain being torn in the temple when Jesus died. This gave us direct access to God.
- And so now, as high priest, Jesus continually represents us to the Father as the New Humanity, helping us, being available to us, interceding for us as our Advocate (Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1). When we use the word intercede, we need to be careful. Jesus is not pleading with a reluctant Father! The Father loves us every bit as much as Son (Jn 16:27). He and the Father together collaborate on how to best protect and bless their people.
- So Christ is invested as high priest. The second thing that took place:
- Jesus was coronated as king of kings
- When did Jesus become king of all? Complex question that requires a little unpacking. The divine Logos, second person of Holy Trinity, is and always has been king. He created all things; Paul says: “He is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). So, as God, Jesus has always been king over all creation.
- But as a man, Jesus, Yehoshua ben Joseph, Joshua son of Joseph, became king through a series of steps. He was acknowledged king by the Magi at his birth. He was anointed king by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Mt 3:13-17). This is why Jesus is called “Christ” (christos – “anointed one”; Heb. mashiach). After his death, resurrection and ascension, he was enthroned as king in heaven. And after his return to earth, he will be enthroned king on earth.
- But king of what? Well, king of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. IOW, king of everywhere in which his will/authority/love are exercised on earth.
- In Gospels, he is depicted most often as king of the Jews, because Jesus was sent only to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24) and by the end of his ministry the boundaries of the Kingdom of God are pretty much co-extensive with the boundaries of national Israel. Thus, the superscription on the cross over his head read “king of the Jews” (Mk 15:26).
- But Christ’s kingship would not to be limited to the borders of Israel. When giving the Great Commission, he clarified that “all authority in heaven and earth” was given to him (Mt 28:18-20). Repossess the nations dispossessed in Gen 11 after the Ziggurat of Babylon incident. His authority was commensurate with his kingdom, his reign.
- And so, when Christ ascended to heaven, he was coronated King over all.
Phil 2: 9-11
9 “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
- What kind of Coronation ceremony was staged in the courts of heaven? Can you imagine the event? This is what Queen Elizabeth’s coronation looked like SLIDE 10, This is an artist’s rendering SLIDE 11 of what Ezekiel saw in God’s throne room….Seraphim, Cherubim, court of heaven, divine council, all the holy ones, billions of angels. Think of the choir! The colors, the music, the pagentry, the beauty!
- Why was it essential that Jesus become king as a human? Because earth was given to humans to rule over. (cf. Gen 1:26; Psalm 9:4-6)
- When Adam and Eve chose to follow lies of Satan rather than obey Yahweh. They unwittingly abdicated their authority over the earth to Satan and his cohort of evil elohim (Eph 2:1; 1 Jn 5:19).
- So Jesus came as the new human prototype: the new Adam to head a new humanity. He would expose and defeat Satan as an imposter ruler and restore human authority to rule over the earth. Daniel saw this play out in a vision:
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. (YHWH) He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
- This is why Jesus’ favorite title was not “Lord” or “Son of God” or “God” but “Son of Man.”
- As a man, Jesus is enthroned in the highest place in heaven. And according to Eph 2:6, we have been raised up and enthroned with him, “far above” all the angelic powers. Because we are joined to Christ, we can exercise his authority over the powers of darkness (cf. Eph 1:20-21).
- Let me leave you with this thought:
- There is a human being reigning right now on the throne of the universe! John Duncan wrote: “The dust of the earth is on the throne of the majesty on high”. Who is he? He is our elder brother, Jesus. Heb 2:11: “Jesus is not afraid to call them his brothers and sisters.” He rules with wisdom and power and unexcelled authority. He protects his people through every age. He builds his Church and the “gates of hell” cannot withstand his ever-expanding kingdom. And he is coming again to earth at exactly the right time to, that we might live and reign with him on a restored earth forever.
- It is this loving elder brother that is also our great high priest, constantly thinking about us, constantly talking about us to the Father.
15 “For 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. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”