The Ascension and Reign of Jesus our King
Topic: The Ascension
THE ASCENSION AND REIGN OF JESUS OUR KING
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: May 24, 2020
Series: Ascension Day
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There is an important but often overlooked day on the church calendar. When I say ‘church calendar’, I am referring to significant annual events that the global church typically recognizes and honors. For example, we have the Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day. Then a few months later we have Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Resurrection Sunday.
There are a number of other important but less familiar days on the church calendar. One of these other holy days is Ascension Day – the day on which we celebrate our risen Lord’s ascension into heaven.
Ascension Day comes forty days after Resurrection Sunday. This year, Resurrection Sunday was celebrated on April 12, which places Ascension Day on Thursday May 21. Let’s not allow this week to pass by without giving our attention to the meaning and significance of this glorious event.
THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD
On Resurrection Day, our Lord Jesus Christ rose victorious from the realm of death. He broke its chains and burst forth with indestructible life! The risen Christ then ministered to His disciples over the course of forty days, “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3) and preparing them for their upcoming mission to the world (Acts 1:1-5). He promised:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
THE ASCENSION AND ENTHRONEMENT OF OUR LORD
Then it happened:
“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:9-11)
Jesus was “lifted up” and “taken up… into heaven.”
The Nicene Creed includes the ascension as one of the key components of understanding what Jesus accomplished. The Nicene Creed says in part:
“He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead;
Whose kingdom shall have no end.”
The ascension into heaven of our Lord Jesus Christ is rightly understood as His enthronement as King. True, He was King already. Indeed, from everlasting to everlasting God’s Son is King. But even so, God’s Son became Man – and as the God-Man He traveled the road of human experience. As Man, Jesus had to follow the Father’s appointed path toward the crown. First He suffered; afterward He entered into glory (Luke 24:26, . Jesus testifies to this journey in Revelation 3, when He says, “I… conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
The ascension of our Lord is that moment when He was “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:22) – when He was seated upon the throne and thus enthroned as Lord over the entire universe. The reality of enthronement is conveyed by the concept of sitting down – that is, sitting down on the heavenly throne, as we read in Hebrews 1.
THE GLORY OF GOD’S SON IN HEBREWS 1:1-4
Hebrews 1:1-4 says,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)
Ponder the riches of this passage:
God’s Son is the Father’s word to us!
God’s Son perfectly displays the Father’s glory!
God’s Son is the creator of all things, the heir of all things, and the upholder of all things! By the Father’s mandate, all things belong to His Son, and all things owe their original existence and their ongoing sustenance to Him.
God’s Son is the one and only Savior who is able to redeem sinners from the penalty and power of sin. He made “purification for sins” by offering Himself as the sin-bearer in our place and by shedding His innocent blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
After He presented Himself to the Father as the atoning sacrifice on a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem, He emerged triumphant – alive from the dead! – and in short order He was seated on His heavenly throne: “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
He is “superior to angels” and is, in fact, worshiped by the angels (Hebrews 1:6).
His name is “more excellent” than that of the angels. Indeed, His name is above all other names: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
The only sensible response to all this is to bow down “at the name of Jesus” and “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11)
A FOOLISH WORLD OF FALSE KINGS
Sadly, many human beings refuse to come their senses and therefore they continue to operate in a fake ‘mental world’ over which Jesus isn’t King. Some people may say that ‘reason is king’ or ‘science is king’ or ‘data is king’. It is a scary thing when people say, ‘We will follow the data wherever it leads.’ Who deified data? And who gets to be an authorized interpreter of data? This kind of unquestioned obedience should be reserved for Jesus only!
Some people might say that ‘money is king’ or ‘opportunity is king’ or ‘pleasure is king’. A good question to ask is whether your professed king can deliver from death. The rich still die, and their left-behind wealth will not have any negotiating power on the day of judgment.
Some people might say that ‘government will save us’ and ‘the experts will guide us’ and ‘the programs will rescue us’. The problem is that these are run by men, many of whom have not yet come to their senses about the truth of the universe. How can we trust someone who suppresses the fundamental truth that the world exists by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ? If your foundation is wrong, then the whole structure is doomed to failure. If lies about reality are running the operating system of your heart, why should we have confidence that the ideas being spun out of your operating system will lead to true human flourishing? Jesus put the matter simply: bad trees bear bad fruit (see Luke 6:43-45).
JESUS IS KING
So on this Ascension Day, I want to proclaim the glorious truth that Jesus is King, and that King Jesus is actively reigning over the universe from His heavenly throne. He is ruling the universe now, today, at the present time, and He will continue to do so until the great day of consummation – after which He will continue to reign forever!
TWO GREAT POINTS IN TIME
In Acts 1:11, two great points in time were presented to us. Acts 1:11 says, “This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The first great point in time that is mentioned is His ascension: He “was taken up”! The second great point in time that is mentioned is His return: He “will come” again!
WHAT IS THE ASCENDED KING DOING NOW?
Now here is my question: What is the ascended King doing between these two points? What is He doing now?
I don’t think we give adequate attention to this question. Looking back, we know the great work of redemption that He has already accomplished through His death and resurrection. Looking forward, we know the great work of re-creation and renewal that He will accomplish when He comes again. But we ought also to look around us in the here and now of this present age, and look upward to heaven, and ask: ‘What is King Jesus doing now?’
KING JESUS HAS SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY
As we seek to answer this question, let’s begin our reflection with a simple but key declaration of truth: Jesus has sovereign authority over all things now. This is where we must start: Jesus truly possesses absolute authority over the entire cosmos. His possession of authority is the foundation of His exercise of authority, which we will reflect on momentarily.
But before the exercise of authority comes the possession of authority. And two passages make clear that King Jesus does indeed have this sovereign authority.
On the eve of His enthronement, Jesus told His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) We understand, of course, that God the Father has absolute claim on all authority everywhere in the universe. And while God the Son has shared in this absolute and sovereign authority from eternity, when God the Son became Man, the God-Man had to receive this authority from the Father. The God-Man Jesus Christ didn’t act on His own initiative, but in complete dependence on the Father and in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. And there is a very real sense in which Jesus received sovereign authority even before His resurrection and ascension.
In John 5, Jesus said: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son (John 5:21-22). In John 10, Jesus declared: “… I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) In John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (John 17:1-2)
So Jesus received sovereign authority before His resurrection and ascension. And yet, Jesus’ resurrection represents the Father’s public declaration that Jesus is indeed the authorized King. And Jesus’ ascension represents His installment as the everlasting King of the cosmos. “All authority in heaven and on earth” belongs to Jesus.
Another passage helps us to see the meaning and significance of the ascension. In Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul tells us that the Father
“raised him [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, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20-23)
What does the ascension mean? It means that Jesus is seated in the place of sovereign authority over the entire universe. The Father has “put all things under his [Christ’s] feet.” Christ Jesus is “head over all things.” And all of this expresses the Father’s eternal purpose to have the entire universe properly ordered under the rule of Christ. For earlier in Ephesians 1 Paul described God’s global purpose, saying that the Father
“[made] known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
What is the Father’s plan for the universe? To bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ. Which means that Christ is the central defining reality of the universe that the Father is reclaiming. And when you combine Ephesians 1:9-10 with Ephesians 1:20-23 and other passages, the idea is that God’s plan is for all things to be joyfully and peaceably integrated in and under the sovereign kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A true Christian is someone who has already begun to participate in God’s grand purpose for the universe; a true Christian is someone who lives in and under King Jesus now. Indeed, the church hears and understands that the ascension of Christ is the exaltation of our husband-King who loves us and gave Himself for us (Ephesians 5:25) – and His ascension is for our good: “And he [the Father]… gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22) The sovereignty of Christ is one of God’s gifts to the bride of Christ: our husband-King is Lord over all, and we share in the riches of His kingdom.
Tragically, those who refuse to honor Christ now will be forever excluded from God’s kingdom: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5-6)
Have you tasted and seen that the glory of the exalted Christ is sweeter than honey, more valuable than gold, and the one unshakeable foundation in this tottering world?
KING JESUS EXERCISES AUTHORITY
King Jesus has authority. And this authority that He has, He also exercises. He puts His authority into practice in order to accomplish the Father’s purpose, which is to transform the world into a kingdom that is fit for the Father.
But all of this might raise a question: If Jesus has sovereign authority over all things, and all things have been put under His feet, then why is there so much unruliness and wickedness still present in our world? Or we might as well ask: why is there any unruliness or wickedness in our world, if Jesus is King over it?
Bearing in mind that all analogies are imperfect (especially when pressed too far), let me offer an analogy that might help us to understand what is going on.
Let us suppose that a wealthy father went on a journey through a distant land, and came upon a large and once-beautiful estate that in times past had been a center of economic activity and had produced an abundance of goodness for the whole region. In more recent times, however, the estate had been terribly mismanaged by incompetent men: the soil had become unproductive, the grounds were neglected, the buildings were in disrepair, the debts had piled up, and the servants were very disheartened. But the wealthy father scans the property and sees in his mind a revitalized estate that bears much fruit for the good of the world. So he does two things. First, he looks up the current owner, buys the entire estate with cash, and pays off every debt. The wealthy father now owns the estate outright, with clear title in hand. Second, the father entrusts the entirety of the estate to his beloved and brilliant son, in whom he has complete confidence to bring the old estate into a condition of renewed prosperity. Immediately, on day number one of ownership, the wise son is named ‘lord of the estate’: everything on the estate rightfully belongs to him, and everyoneon the estate rightfully answers to him. But when the neighborhood wakes up on day number two, the soil is still unproductive, the landscape is still shoddy, the buildings are still falling apart, and the servants are still attempting to come to terms with these new developments. But the truth remains that the old estate is now ‘under new management’ – and in an unfolding process that takes place under the authority of the faithful son, the worn-out land is slowly but surely restored to its former glory.
Does this make sense? On day one of the father’s acquisition of the old estate and his entrustment of it to the son’s lordship, everything is under the son’s authority. But it is going to take time for the land to be re-cultivated, for the buildings to be renovated, and for the servants to be re-aligned as fruitful participants in their master’s plan. Do you see?
The world and everything and everyone in it belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His by right of creation: He made it! It is His by right of divine intention: He is its appointed heir! And it is His by right of redemption: He is the one and only “Savior of the world” (John 4:42). And after the God-Man purchased this wayward world with His holy blood, the Father put the universe under the authority of His Son. From the moment of his enthronement at the Father’s right hand, Jesus is the true sovereign over heaven and earth, and He has a rightful claim on everything and everyone, everywhere. All things are already in subjection to Jesus in principle, even though not everything is subject to Jesus in practice. Disobedience is still a thing, and the mortality rate remains remarkably high. The Lord’s enemies have not yet been dismissed into the everlasting ruins. In other words, the restoration project is still in a work in process.
Scripture makes it clear that the practical extension of Christ’s rule and the practical extinguishing of every other rule, is a process. When the Father installed Christ as the rightful sovereign over the entire universe, He launched a process of subduing the entire universe under the rule of Christ. The Father didn’t have to make it an unfolding process that would last thousands of years, but He did – which means that people like you and me get to be part of it! Now as I said before, everything is subject to Christ in principle, but not everything is subject to Him in practice. There are still spiritual forces of wickedness which are at work in this world; there are still wicked men who act corruptly; and the sins of mankind are still being piled up. But this isn’t because Jesus is asleep on the throne. Rather, He is actively exercising His authority in particular ways as He directs His global restoration project. And Jesus will continue to exercise His royal authority until the entire world is in glad submission to His gracious rule, by which time every enemy will have been destroyed. And: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
So what is King Jesus doing now? In what ways is He exercising His sovereign authority in all the todays of our present age? To be sure, since the Father has entrusted all authority to Jesus, we can be sure that Jesus is exercising His authority in millions of ways in millions of places in millions of situations (and that is probably understanding it!), and there is no way we can succeed at tracing all the work of His hands. But we can also be sure of this: King Jesus is especially exercising His royal authority to extend His rule around the globe.
King Jesus is Extending His Rule: The Great Commission
What does the exercise of Jesus’ sovereign authority look like in action? It looks like the church discipling every nation on the face of the earth. Jesus declared, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And what did Jesus say right after He said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)? He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Do you see the logic of this great commission to make disciples all over the world? It is precisely because Jesus is the true King of all the world, that people from all over the world should be brought into allegiance to their rightful sovereign. The making of disciples throughout the world – which involves rescuing sinners out of the darkness and bringing them into the light – is nothing less than re-ordering the world, one convert at a time, under the rule of Christ. And “teaching them to observe all that [Jesus has] commanded [us]” means that their life in all its various dimensions is being brought under the Lordship of Christ.
The establishing and strengthening of local churches – and a local church is a group of disciples who embody Christ’s rule in a particular location – is how the rule of Christ gets extended throughout the earth. When a new church is planted, it is as if the High King of heaven puts the flag of His eternal kingdom on that local assembly of believers and says, ‘This too is mine!’
King Jesus Advances His Mission: The Book of Acts
The Book of Acts – often called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ – is a great book that describes the mission and growth of the early church from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke, the book’s human author, teaches us to understand that what is happening in the Book of Acts is fundamentally the work of King Jesus: what we behold in this book are ‘the acts of the ascended King through the Spirit, through the apostles, and through the church as a whole’. And the great commission of Matthew 28 shows us the same truth: the sovereign Christ is “with [us] always” as we go forth in His name to make new disciples.
What does the ascended King Jesus do in the Book of Acts? He pours out His Spirit upon His people and empowers them to proclaim the gospel. He saves sinners and adds them to the church. He heals a lame man, raises up a dead woman, and removes an evil spirit from a slave girl. He graciously interrupts the misguided plan of ‘Paul the persecutor’ and transforms him into ‘Paul the missionary’. In that same passage, we learn that King Jesus, though seated in the glory of heaven, loves dearly and identifies closely with His suffering church on earth, for He introduced Himself to Paul this way: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5) He strikes down a proud king and imposes blindness on a false teacher. All the time He is directing the advancement of His gospel: He didn’t allow Paul to go to Bithynia, because He had work for Paul to do in Macedonia. When Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:9-10) The Lord is with His people as they take His gospel to the world.
King Jesus Strengthens His People
As we participate in this mission of bringing the peoples of the world to the knowledge of Christ and under His rule, Christ exercises His rule for our good. From heaven, “the Lord [makes us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12). From heaven, He “[comforts our] hearts and [establishes our hearts] in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:17). From heaven, He “[directs our] hearts to the love of God” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). From heaven, “the Lord of peace… [gives us] peace at all times in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). From heaven, He supplies all the grace that we need in order to be faithful and fruitful on the path of obedience. From heaven, Jesus will do for us what Paul knew Jesus would do for him: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” (2 Timothy 4:18)
And when we are struck by the reality that we are not worthy of these many demonstrations of love from our husband-King, then we must remember that the crucified and risen King “is at the right hand of God” and “is interceding for us” and nothing “shall separate us from [His love]” (Romans 8:34, 35). Moreover, our great priest-king who faced temptation and suffering and death – and conquered through it – He is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) and “help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). The King who “gave himself up for [us]” (Ephesians 5:25) will continue to nourish and cherish us (Ephesians 5:29), until that glorious day when He comes again – when “[death] is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) and we “appear with [Christ] in glory.” (Colossians 3:4)
Our triumphant King says to a wayward people who are tempted to get off track: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
THE REIGN OF KING JESUS MUST IMPACT OUR LIFE IN FOUR WAYS
Brothers and sisters, the ascension and reign of Jesus our King must impact our lives in at least the following four ways.
First, enjoy the King! He loves His people and leverages His authority for our good. Live in the joy of the conqueror-King who is already ascended, already enthroned, and already ruling over this universe.
Second, express the reality of His Kingship by walking in obedience to all that He has commanded. “[Let] the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you” (Colossians 3:16). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
Third, be sure to not only express His rule in terms of your own life, but also extend His rule by bringing others under it. This is what it means to make new disciples. This is what it means to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This is what it means to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” and to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Enjoy His rule.
Express His rule.
Extend His rule.
And finally, exclude all rivals: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6)
Fellow Christians, the world is a monarchy, and Jesus is King over all of it. As His appointed ambassadors who have been entrusted with His message, let us be faithful to destroy every stronghold and every argument that opposes the glory of our great King.
And be sure of this: one day the restoration project will be complete, and full of beauty it will be. The bride of Christ will shine forth with the brightness of God’s glory. All things will be properly and wonderfully arranged under the rule of Christ. And we will see our King face to face.