This morning, we conclude our week-long consideration of the practical significance of the ascension. We have seen, thus far, that the ascension (1) shows us Christ on the throne, (2) enables our perseverance and emboldens our prayers, (3) ensures the presence of the Spirit, and (4) empowers the church with spiritual gifts. The final significance of the ascension—at least as far as our consideration goes—is that the ascension serves as a promise of Christ’s return—and should keep us longing for it.
In Luke’s rendition of the ascension, as the disciples gazed wistfully into heaven as Jesus ascended, “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 1:10–11).
While it does not emphasise the second coming as heavily as some people think, the New Testament in no uncertain terms teaches that Jesus will return. According to the two angels in Acts 1, he will do so “in the same way” that he ascended—that is, visibly and bodily. Then—and only then—our mission will be complete, our sinful inclinations will be overcome, and death will be fully and finally conquered. That is something to long for—and it is secured by the ascension.
How will a healthy focus on the return of Christ, promised by the ascension, change the way we live? It should practically affect us in at least three ways.
First, the hope of Christ’s return should spur our holiness. John wrote of the wonderful promise that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” He immediately added, “And everyone who thus hope in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1–3). Reflection on the truth of the Lord’s return should aid our pursuit of holiness. Since we know we will be perfectly like him at his coming, let us strive to be like him in our living.
Second, the hope of Christ’s return should fortify our trust. In this life, we will face all sorts of injustice. The natural human tendency is to seek immediate reparations. While Christians should desire and pursue justice, the reality of the second coming enables us, in the fact of personal injustice, to trust God for ultimate justice. Paul wrote, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). He added elsewhere that, when the Lord comes, he “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). As we reflect on the truth of the ascension, and therefore on the promise of the second coming, it bolsters our trust that the Christ who reigns over all things will return as judge to right all wrongs. This enables us to endure wrongdoing, as he endured wrongdoing, with trust in that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right.
Third, and finally, a proper focus on the second coming, spurred by a proper theology of the ascension, will encourage our evangelism. While writing in the context of another judgement, Peter’s words still ring true of the second coming: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In other words, God frequently delays judgement in order to give people opportunity to believe the gospel. This delay ought to produce in his people a commitment to share the hope of the gospel.
As we conclude our brief consideration of the ascension, therefore, allow your thoughts of Christ ascended to remind you of Christ returning, which will spur your holiness, fortify your trust, and encourage your evangelism.