7 Implications of Jesus’ Ascension (Steve Walton)

Steve Walton

Steve Walton states that Jesus’ ascension “expresses the Christian conviction that Jesus now reigns over the universe” (59) and “The ascension of Jesus … provides the apostles with a visual demonstration of the truth of Jesus’ exalted status” (60).

In addition to these summary-type statements, he provides 7 significant theological implications of the ascension.

(1) The ascension implies that Jesus now reigns alongside God in heaven, and thus it is appropriate to call him *“Lord” as well as “Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The (singular) cloud (Acts 1:9) echoes the one in Luke 21:27 on which the *Son of Man comes to God (cf. Dan 7:13), clearly placing Jesus alongside Israel’s God. Thus Jesus, still human, is to be *worshiped (Lk 24:52) alongside Yahweh, and the portrait of Israel’s God expands (Johnson). Psalm 110 (esp. Ps 110:1, 4) was a key biblical passage that was interpreted (following Jesus’ own lead [Mk 12:35–37]) concerning Jesus, who is thus to be understood as having been enthroned at God’s right hand as coruler (e.g., Rom 8:34; Heb 10:12–13).

(2) The ascension presages Jesus’ return to earth from heaven (Acts 1:11; cf. Heb 9:28). That return will be the time of cosmic renewal and restoration promised in Scripture (Acts 3:20–21) and of *judgment (Acts 17:31). The cloud—a key marker of Jesus’ departure (Acts 1:9)—became an emblem of Jesus’ return in early Christian writing (e.g., 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7; 14:14–16). Paul picks up Psalm 110:1 as testimony that the time will come when God will place Jesus’ enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:25–26). The ascension is “the advance notice of the end” (Robinson, cited in Zwiep, 196).

(3) Because of Jesus’ ascended status, the *Holy Spirit is given to believers from him (Acts 2:33). The Spirit comes from heaven at Jesus’ behest, for the exalted Jesus is now Lord of the Spirit (Acts 2:36). By the Spirit, Jesus exercises his rule and reign, empowering believers to call the whole of creation back to God; hence, the apostles are to go to “the end of the earth,” encompassing the whole of creation (Acts 1:8).

(4) Jesus’ presence in heaven means that he welcomes believers there, for he stands there to welcome Stephen (Acts 7:55–56). The naming of Jesus as “the Son of Man” in Acts 7:55–56 implies that he has fulfilled Daniel 7:13 and now has the universal jurisdiction given to the Son of Man by the Most High. Paul similarly recognizes that when Jesus returns to the renewed heaven and earth, he will bring with him believers who have died to welcome believers who are still alive (1 Thess 4:14–17).

(5) Because Jesus is now in heaven, he can appear and act from heaven. Luke does not have an “absentee Christology,” for Jesus can appear to Saul on the Damascus road and strike him blind (Acts 9:8); indeed, Jesus is identified with the believers whom Saul persecutes (Acts 9:5). The Jesus who reigns is also the Jesus who suffers with his people and who thus shares God’s own ability to be present in many locations at once. Further, Jesus speaks to Ananias to prepare for Saul to be welcomed by the believing community (Acts 9:10–16); Jesus is thus the stage manager of earthly events. Likewise, Jesus pours out the Spirit (Acts 2:33) and heals Aeneas (Acts 9:34), and by his name others are healed (e.g., Acts 3:6, 16; 4:7, 30). Since Jesus is engaged with events on earth from heaven, it is appropriate for believers to pray to ask him to act (Acts 9:14, 21).

(6) Jesus’ ascension pierces the barrier between earth and heaven, and two-way traffic between them then flows. The flurry of angelic activity in the early chapters of Acts is striking (Acts 1:10–11; 5:19; 8:26; 10:3; 12:7–11, 23); this is even more true than in Luke’s Gospel (where angels are more prominent than in the other Gospels), for there angelic appearances are a feature only of the infancy narratives and the resurrection stories (it is unlikely that Lk 22:43 is part of the original text of Luke). Similarly, the repeated coming and activity of the Spirit shows heaven invading earth (e.g., Acts 2:1–4; 4:8, 31; 6:10; 7:55; 8:17; 9:17; 10:44; 11:28; 13:2, 9, 52). The early Christians’ exorcisms mark the repulsion of the occupying powers of evil and bondage (e.g., Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:16–18; 19:12), and “signs and wonders” occur at the battlefronts (e.g., Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). God’s word is an active agent of the mission of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:48–49; 20:32; cf. Is 55:10–11). Heaven is permanently “open for business” in a way that is unprecedented in Scripture.

(7) Jesus’ present position in heaven means that believers may approach God with confidence through him: he is the sure source of *salvation (Heb 5:9–10; cf. Acts 4:12). He has the ear of the Father and intercedes for believers (Heb 7:25). As high priest, standing within heaven’s courts (Heb 6:19–20), Jesus can aid believers tempted to sin or apostatize (Heb 4:14–16). Christian confidence and assurance stem from Jesus’ exaltation, for through him believers are assured of God’s welcome and encouraged to trust Christ’s enabling power in transforming their lives and enabling them to live as God calls them to live.

S. Walton, “Ascension of Jesus,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; IVP, 2013), 60–61.