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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. NT statements. -The historical account of the Ascension is given in  Acts 1:2-12, for the Gospel story does not carry us so far. The Ascension, the last of the series of the post-Resurrection appearances, is a new subject, and the description of it begins a new book. This is the case whatever view we take of the text of  Luke 24:51, as that in any case is no detailed description of the event, but only a brief summary of the incidents. The First and Fourth Gospels end before the final departure, and so probably did the Second, the conclusion of which (after  Luke 16:8) we have lost.

The place of the Ascension was Olivet ( Acts 1:12, Ἐλαιών-so, according to some editors, we ought to read the word in  Luke 19:29;  Luke 21:37), usually called the Mount of Olives. It was ‘over against Bethany’ ( Luke 24:50), and therefore on the far or S.E. side of the hill, looking down on Bethany, which lies in a hollow; the reputed site overlooks Jerusalem, and is unlikely to have been the real one (Swete, Appearances , p. 103; but see C. Warren, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 619). As they were talking, Jeans lifted up His hands and blessed the disciples ( Luke 24:50), and in the act of blessing He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight ( Acts 1:9). Two angels (‘men in white apparel’) appeared and assured them of His future return to earth, and they went back to Jerusalem (v. 10ff.) with great joy ( Luke 24:52). There had been no record of angelic appearances when the risen Jesus was seen by the disciples, as we might have expected from  John 1:51; the angels appeared only to announce the Resurrection and to explain the Ascension. The account in  Luke 24:50-52 can hardly apply to any other parting than the Ascension, even if with ‘Western’ authorities (DA, some Old-Lat. Manuscripts, Angustine*[Note: Augustine inserts the words once, and omits them once. Syr-sin is also quoted for the omission; it rends: ‘when he blessed them, he was lifted up (ettrîm) from them,’ which seems to be an abbreviation of the fuller text, and, if so, to be a witness against, the omission (the tr. ‘taken away’ possible but less probable; D-lat has ‘discessit’). Syr-sin also omits ‘and they worshipped him,’ with ‘Western’ texts. The Peshiṭta Syriac has the full text (with ethpresh, ‘was separated,’ for the first verb), as has the Latin Vulgate. The omission may be due to homoioteleuton.]) we omit the last half of  Luke 24:51; ‘was carried up into heaven.’ On no other supposition can the ‘joy’ of the disciples be understood. At any rate, the person who inserted the words, whether the Evangelist or a scribe, so took them.

The NT is full of references to the Ascension. It is called an ‘assumption’ (ἀνάληψις), in the hymn quoted in  1 Timothy 3:16 (‘received up [ἀνελήφθη] in glory’), in the Appendix to Mk. (mark 16:19, ἀνελήφθη) and  Luke 9:51 (‘the days of his assumption,’ ἀναλήψεως), as in  Acts 1:2;  Acts 1:11;  Acts 1:22 (cf. ὑπέλαβεν,  Acts 1:9). The same verb is used of Elijah ( 2 Kings 2:11 Septuagint,  Sirach 48:9) and of Enoch ( Sirach 49:14), and also of the vessel received up into heaven in St. Peter’s vision ( Acts 10:16). On the other hand, we read of an ‘ascension’ (ἀνάβασις) in  John 6:62;  John 20:17, and in  Ephesians 4:8 f., where  Psalms 68:18 is quoted, the first clause nearly following the Septuagint, the latter differing from it. St. Paul was probably guided by an old Jewish interpretation (Robinson, Com. in loc. ); so in  Acts 2:34 St. Peter says that David did not ascend (ἀνέβη) into the heavens. The word ‘ascension’ has less of a mystical meaning than ‘assumption,’ and emphasizes the historical side of the matter; ‘assumption’ may be misinterpreted in a Docetic sense, as it is in the Gospel of Peter , 5, where our Lord’s death is so called (ἀνελήφθη) by the Docetic author. For this reason Irenaeus speaks of the Ascension as an ‘assumption in the flesh’ (ἔνσαρκον ἀνάληψιν [ Hœr . i. x. 1]; see also Swete, Ap. Creed , 70). Other words are used elsewhere in the NT. Jesus is the High Priest who has ‘passed through’ (διεληλυθότα) the heavens ( Hebrews 4:14)-the reference is to the idea of seven heavens (cf.  Hebrews 7:26 ‘made higher than the heavens’); He ‘entered’ (εἰσῆλθε) within the veil as a forerunner on our behalf ( Hebrews 6:20), not into a holy place (ἅγια) mode with hands, but into heaven itself ( Hebrews 9:12;  Hebrews 9:24). The Ascension was a ‘departure’ ( John 16:7, ἀπέλθω), a ‘parting’ ( Luke 24:51, διέστη), according to many Manuscriptsa ‘carrying up’ into heaven ( ib. , ἀνεφέρετο [see above], a verb used of the taking up of the disciples to the Mount of Transfiguration,  Matthew 17:1,  Mark 9:2), a ‘lifting up’ ( Acts 1:9, ἐπήρθη, a verb used of lifting up the eyes to heaven,  Luke 18:13,  John 17:1), and a ‘journey’ ( 1 Peter 3:22, πορευθείς, used of the nobleman who went into a far country, a parable looking forward to the Ascension,  Luke 19:12).

The Ascension of our Lord was not a death. David did not ascend, though he died and was buried ( Acts 2:29;  Acts 2:34). So in  John 3:13 those who had died had not ‘ascended.’ This verse would hardly have been recorded if the Evangelist had not assumed the Ascension of Jesus as a historical fact, and it is in effect a prophecy of that event; it asserts the pre-existence (καταβάς), and points forward to the Ascension, though it does not assert that our Lord had at that time actually ascended (ἀναβέβηκεν).

The Ascension is implied by the expected return or ‘descent’ of our Lord,  1 Thessalonians 4:16 (καταβήσεται), a return called a ‘revelation’ (ἀποκάλυψις) of the Lord Jesus in  2 Thessalonians 1:7,  1 Corinthians 1:7. The disciples did not look for any other appearance such as had taken place in the Forty Days, until He should come at the end of the world.

2. Session and exaltation of our Lord. -In the passages given above, the Ascension is described as the parting of Jesus from the disciples at the last of the Resurrection appearances; for thereafter there were no such manifestations as those in which Jesus had been touched by the disciples and had eaten in their presence ( Matthew 28:9,  Luke 24:43 and probably  Luke 24:30;  Luke 24:35,  John 20:27 -though St. Thomas perhaps did not actually touch the Lord when invited to do so-and possibly  John 20:17); the appearances to St. Paul at his conversion and to St. John in Patmos were of quite another nature. In the description of the parting a symbolical tinge is seen. The glorified body is received by a cloud as it gradually vanishes from the disciples’ eyes. But ‘up’ and ‘down’ are symbolical words; heaven is not a palace vertically above the Mount of Olives, nor is it a place at all, but a state; the Ascension is a transition rather from one condition to another than from one place to another (Milligan, The Ascension , p. 26). The fact that men were accustomed to speak symbolically of heaven being ‘above’ was doubtless the reason of the last disappearance taking the form that it did; it would seem that when Jesus disappeared on former occasions during the Forty Days (for the Gospels describe His Resurrection body as being not bound by the ordinary laws of Nature) He did not vanish by an apparently upward movement. In the statements about the ascended life of our Lord symbolism has to be still more freely employed, as no human language can adequately describe the new conditions. Just as symbol was necessary to describe the Temptation of our Lord, or the overthrow of Satan by the efforts of the Seventy disciples ( Luke 10:17 f.), or the eventual triumph over evil foretold in the Apocalypse, so was it necessary in describing the heavenly life of Jesus. The use of symbolism, of which the Bible from beginning to end is full, does not mean that the incident or condition described is mythical, but that it cannot he expressed in ordinary human words. Sanday, in his striking lecture on ‘The Symbolism of the Bible’ ( Life of Christ in Recent Research , Oxford, 1907), defines it as ‘indirect description.’

The symbolism used to describe our Lord’s ascended life is that of  Psalms 110:1, which is quoted directly in  Mark 12:36,  Matthew 22:44,  Acts 2:34 f.,  1 Corinthians 15:25,  Hebrews 1:13;  Hebrews 10:12 f., and indirectly in numerous passages which speak of Jesus being, sitting, or standing, on God’s right hand till all His enemies are subdued. In some passages it is said that He ‘sat down’ (ἐκάθισεν,  Hebrews 1:3;  Hebrews 8:1;  Hebrews 10:12,  Mark 16:19) or ‘hath sat down’ (κεκάθικεν,  Hebrews 12:2, inferior Manuscriptsἐκάθισεν); so in  Ephesians 1:20 it is said that God ‘made him to sit’ (καθίσας), and in  Revelation 3:21 Jesus says ‘I sat down (ἐκάθισα) with my Father in his throne’ (cf.  Revelation 12:5). In other passages Jesus is said to ‘be sitting,’ as in  Colossians 3:1 (ἐστὶν … καθήμενος); so in  Mark 14:62 and || (see below). While the former method of expression emphasizes the historic fact of the Ascension on a certain day, the latter denotes that the Session was not an isolated, but is a continuous, action. The latter point of view is seen also in  Romans 8:34,  1 Peter 3:22 (‘who is at the right hand’), and in  Acts 7:55 f. where Stephen sees the Lord ‘standing’ at the right hand of God-ready (such seems to be the meaning) to help His martyr (cf. also  Revelation 5:6;  Revelation 14:1). And we note that in  Psalms 110:1 [Septuagint] the imperative ‘sit’ (κάθου) marks the continuance of the Session (Westcott on  Hebrews 1:13). This variation in biblical usage is reflected in the use of both ‘sitteth’ and ‘sat down’ ( sedet, sedit ) in different Creeds. The former is the usual form, e.g. in the ‘Constantinopolitan’ form of the Nicene Creed (καθεζόμενον; cf. Tertullian, de Virg, Vel . 1, ‘sedentem nunc’). But the latter is sometimes found, especially in the 4th cent., as in the Creed of Jerusalem (Cyr. Jer. Cat . xiv. 27, καθίσαντα ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός); in the Testament of our Lord (ii. 8); the Verona Latin fragments of the Didascalia (ed. Hauler, p. 110); the Egyptian and Ethiopia Church Orders  ; and in the Creeds of the Abbot Pirminius (8th cent.), of the Bangor Antiphonary (7th cent.), of the Gallican Sacramentary (7th cent.; Codex Bobiensis), and of the Missale Gallicanum (Mabillon); cf. also Tert. de Prœscr . 13, ‘sedisse.’

The Session is ‘at the right hand of God’-either ἐκ δεξιῶν or ἐν δεξιᾷ; the former in  Psalms 110:1 [Septuagint] (‘at my right hand’) and in the quotations of it in  Matthew 22:44,  Mark 12:36,  Acts 2:34,  Hebrews 1:13, also in the allusions to it in  Mark 14:62 and ||  Matthew 26:64 (both ‘of power’) and ||  Luke 22:69 (‘of the power of God’) and  Mark 16:19,  Acts 7:55 f. twice (‘of God’). But St. Paul, St. Peter, and the writer of Hebrews prefer ἐν δεξιᾷ:  Romans 8:34,  Hebrews 10:12 (though  Hebrews 10:13 is a quotation from  Psalms 110:1),  Colossians 3:1,  1 Peter 3:22 (all these have ‘of God’); so  Hebrews 1:3 (‘of the Majesty on high’)  Hebrews 8:1 (‘of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens’)  Hebrews 12:2 (‘of the throne of God’),  Ephesians 1:20 (‘his right hand’). With these phrases cf.  Acts 2:33 (‘being therefore by the right hand of God exalted,’ ὑψωθείς)  Acts 5:31 (‘him did God exalt with his right hand’), in both of which places Revised Version margin reads ‘at’ for ‘by’ or ‘with.’

The symbolism of Session, according to Pearson ( On the Creed , articlevi.) and Westcott ( Historic Faith 4, 1890, p. 52), is that of perfect rest from all pain, sorrow, disturbance, and opposition. Yet, as Swete points out ( Ascended Christ , p. 14), this is, at best, incomplete. The seated monarch on earth is not idle, and so the seated Christ ‘rests not day nor night from the unintermitting energies of heaven.’ The symbolism of the right hand is unmistakable. It expresses the exaltation and glory of the Ascended Christ as Man. Jesus did not merely return to His former glory (cf.  John 17:5 : ‘which I had with thee before the world was’), but, in addition, was glorified in His human nature. For the exaltation see  Luke 24:26 (‘to enter into his glory’-the glory which was His due),  John 7:39;  John 12:16,  Acts 2:36 (‘God hath made him-caused him to be recognized as-both Lord and Christ’; with reference to the Session),  2 Corinthians 3:13-18,  Philippians 2:9 (αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσε, ‘highly exalted him,’ in consequence of the self-emptying and self-humiliation),  1 Timothy 3:16 (‘received up in glory’),  Hebrews 2:9 (‘crowned with glory and honour’), and the passages given above. The exaltation or ‘lifting up’ (ὕψωσις) is spoken of by our Lord in immediate reference to the Crucifixion ( John 3:14;  John 8:28;  John 12:32;  John 12:34), but doubtless with the further thought that death leads to glory (cf.  John 13:31; see also Milligan, op. cit. p. 78f.).-It is not improbable that the period of Forty Days was one of increasing glory, of which the Ascension was the consummation. In  John 20:17 our Lord Says to Mary Magdalene, ‘I ascend’ (ἀναβαίνω), that is, not ‘I shall ascend,’ as our looser English use of the present tense may suggest, but ‘I am ascending.’ ‘The Resurrection had begun the great change; from Easter morning He was already ascending’ (Swete, Holy Spirit in NT , p. 374). But the last parting was the definite act of Ascension.

3. The work of the ascended Christ. -( a ) Jesus has ascended to make intercession for us as our Priest ,  Romans 8:34,  Hebrews 7:25 (a perpetual intercession). The High-Priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of Hebrews, and  Psalms 110:4 is quoted in  Hebrews 5:6;  Hebrews 5:10;  Hebrews 7:17;  Hebrews 7:21. Jesus is High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, not of the Aaronic order (see below). He is our ‘great priest’ ( Hebrews 10:21). One of the meanings of ‘Paraclete’ is ‘Advocate’ or ‘Intercessor,’ and Jesus is our Paraclete ( 1 John 2:1), as He Himself implies in calling the Holy Ghost ‘ another Paraclete’ (ἄλλον Παράκλητον,  John 14:16). His very presence in heaven is the intercession which He offers. He ‘appears before the face of God for us’ ( Hebrews 9:24). This is the meaning of the references in Hebrews to the high priest entering into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement ( Hebrews 4:14-16; HEB 16:20;  Hebrews 7:27;  Hebrews 8:3;  Hebrews 9:7;  Hebrews 9:12;  Hebrews 9:24 etc.) But we must notice two differences between the type and the antitype. The earthly high priest stands to offer ( Hebrews 10:11), while Jesus is usually (though not always) depicted as sitting (above, § 2). And the earthly high priest enters into the Holy of Holies alone, leaving the people outside, while Jesus carries the people with Him within the veil and gives them access to the Father ( Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus is the Mediator ( Hebrews 8:6;  Hebrews 12:24), and on His mediation all human intercession is based ( 1 Timothy 2:1;  1 Timothy 2:5). Mediation and intercession are not, indeed, quite the same thing. A mediator brings the contending parties together. But our ascended Mediator goes further, and offers intercession for all men (see Swete, Asc. Christ , p. 93). In this connexion we must notice that there is no contradiction between the intercession of the Holy Ghost and that of our ascended Lord. St. Paul speaks of both intercessions in the same context ( Romans 8:26 f., 34). The two are not to be separated; they are really one act, though the insufficiency of human language makes them seem two. The intercession of our Lord in heaven and that of the Spirit in the hearts of believers are one. Christ in heaven sends the Holy Ghost to intercede within us. This double conception is parallel with that of the Holy Spirit coming down to us here on earth at the same time that we are taken up to ‘the heavenlies’ with Jesus ( Ephesians 2:6).

It has long been disputed when the High-Priesthood of Christ began. He was the Priest-Victim on the Cross, and some passages in Hebrews point to a Priesthood on earth, while others point to one in heaven only. Westcott ( Hebrews 3 , p. 229, Add. Note on 8:1) says that Christ fulfilled two types, and that there are two aspects of His Priesthood, one as fulfilling the Levitical High-Priesthood on earth before the Session, and the other as fulfilling that of Melchizedek thereafter. The priesthood was thus, as it were, completed by the Ascension. But Milligan ( op. cit. p. 72ff.) denies the two types of priesthood, and says that our Lord’s Priesthood began with His glorification, and that the Death was part of this glorification, falling in the sphere of the heavenly Priesthood. There seems to be much truth in both views. The Priesthood of Christ is one , but as the earthly high priest only fulfilled his priesthood when he brought the blood of the victim within the Holy Place, so Christ did not fulfil His Priesthood till the Ascension (see J. H. Bernard, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ii. 157).

( b ) Jesus has ascended to rule over and to fill all things; He is our King . This is specially emphasized in Rev ( Revelation 1:5;  Revelation 5:11 f.;  Revelation 11:15;  Revelation 19:12;  Revelation 19:16;  Revelation 20:4). Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth, and is worthy to receive the power and the might; the kingdom of the world is become the Kingdom of our Lord [the Father] and of His Christ; Jesus has many diadems on His head, and is King of kings and Lord of lords; He reigns with His saints for a thousand years. St. Paul also emphasizes the Kingship of the Ascended Christ. He must (δεῖ)-it is fitting that He should-reign till His enemies are conquered ( 1 Corinthians 15:25). He is seated far above all rule, authority, and power, both in this and in the coming age ( Ephesians 1:21); He ascended that He might fill all things ( Ephesians 4:10; cf.  Ephesians 3:19). His rule is with a view to the restoration of the universe to order, and is not only over Christians, but over all. He was exalted that in His name every knee should bow throughout the whole universe ( Philippians 2:9 f.), i.e. in the name which the Father gave Him (v. 9), namely, the Divine Majesty: to the Divine Jesus all shall do homage (see Lightfoot’s note). He is the Head of the Church, and in all things has the pre-eminence (πρωτεύων), for in Him all the fulness dwells ( Colossians 1:18 f.; for πλήρωμα, see Robinson, Ephesians , p. 255); cf.  Ephesians 4:15 f.; 5:23. So St. Peter speaks of angels and authorities and powers being made subject to the Ascended Christ ( 1 Peter 3:22). All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him ( Matthew 28:18). He is the Priest-King, the ‘priest upon his throne’ of  Zechariah 6:13; and His Kingship assures us that good will triumph over evil.

( c ) The office of the Ascended Jesus as Prophet is not so explicitly mentioned in the NT as His Priesthood and Kingship. Yet it is clearly implied. His prophetic or teaching office did not cease at the Ascension; on the contrary, He thereafter teaches more plainly; not, as formerly, in proverbs ( John 16:25); the teaching is through the girt of the Spirit, who was to teach us all things ( John 14:26), and guide us into all the truth, not speaking from Himself, ‘for he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you’ ( John 16:13 f.). This is illustrated by the outpouring of the gift of prophecy upon the infant Church; ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ ( Revelation 19:10). Now the Ascension is intimately connected with the gift of the Spirit. The Ascension was not a mere spectacle to reassure the disciples, but the mode by which we are given a new life. Until Jesus was glorified it was not possible for the new mode of His presence to take effect ( John 7:39;  John 16:7; cf.  Luke 24:49). Hence the necessity of our Lord’s death: otherwise the grain of wheat could not bear fruit ( John 12:24). The Ascended Christ became a life-giving Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 15:45). The connexion between the Ascension and the gift of the Spirit is also seen from the fact that the last words of Jesus ( Acts 1:8) were that the disciples should receive power when the Holy Ghost should be come upon them, and so they would be Jesus’ witnesses in all the world. This explains to us the purport of the words ‘after he had spoken to them,’ in the Appendix to Mk. ( Mark 16:19).

( d ) Another work is referred to in  Hebrews 6:20. The Ascended Christ has entered within the veil on our behalf as a Forerunner (πρόδρομος [see forerunner]), to prepare a place for us ( John 14:2; for the ‘many resting-places,’ see Swete, Asc. Christ , 105ff.), that we may sit with Him on His throne ( Revelation 3:21).

4. Interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension. -In  Acts 1:3 Jesus is said to have appeared to the disciples ‘by the space of forty days’ (διʼ ἡμερῶν τεσσαράκοντα). This interval has boon usually taken as exact, and when the Festival of the Ascension was instituted, in the 4th cent., the sixth Thursday after Easter was selected for the purpose ( Ap. Const. v. 20; cf. viii. 33, ed. Funk), and has been so observed ever since. But St. Luke’s words do not necessarily imply an exact period of forty days, and there have been other calculations. In the Third Gospel he describes all the events which took place after the Resurrection till the ‘parting’ of  Luke 24:51 (see above, § 1), without Any note of time, and the deduction has been drawn that when he wrote the Gospel he supposed that all the post-Resurrection appearances which he describes took place on Easter Day itself, but that he learnt a more accurate chronology before he wrote Acts (cf. articleActs of the Apostles, V. 1). This is scarcely credible, and assumes that the Gospels are what they never claim to be-chronological biographies, like modern ‘Lives.’ This view makes St. Luke get in all the events which happened after the evening meal at Emmaus ( Luke 24:29), including the return journey of the two disciples 7 or 8 miles to Jerusalem, before nightfall, for none of the authorities suggests that the Ascension took place at night. In Luke 24 we have a series of events foreshortened (probably because the author had already planned Acts), and no note of time is suggested.

There are, however, some indications that the words ‘forty days’ were not always taken exactly. ‘Barnabas’ makes the Ascension take place on a Sunday (§ 15); but he does not say that it was the same Sunday as the Resurrection (‘the eighth day … in which also Jesus rose from the dead, and, having been manifested, ascended up to heaven’). He mentions the ‘eighth’ rather than the ‘first’ day because it follows, the seventh day or Sabbath, of which he is treating; he hints at the replacement of the Jewish Sabbath by the Christian Lord’s day, but only obscurely. With this we may compare the fact that in the Edessene Canons (4th cent.) the Ascension was commemorated on Whitsunday, and go in the Pilgrimage of ‘Silvia’ (Etheria) , though in that work the fortieth day after Easter was observed for another purpose; seethe present writer’s article‘Calendar, The Christian,’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i. 261a. This is some confirmation of the suggestion that the Ascension took place on a Sunday. There are also some speculations of an extravagant nature, such as the valentinian idea that the interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension was 18 months, or that of certain Ophites that it was 11 or 12 years, or that of Eusebius in one place ( Dem. Evang. viii. 2) that it was as long as the Ministry before the Crucifixion; see Swete, Ap. Creed , p. 69f. All that we can deduce from these facts is that, while the Ascension may have taken place on the Thursday, it may also have happened on the following Sunday, or on any day between or close to these dates.

5. Modern objections to the Ascension. -The present article is mainly concerned with the facts, and the reader may be referred for an answer to objections from a philosophical point of view to A. S. Martin’s article in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i., which is very full on this head. Here it is enough to say ( a ) that the objection that it is impossible for a body to disobey the laws of gravity and to ascend instead of fall, presupposes that the Resurrection body of our Lord was under the same material conditions as His body before Easter Day, which all the Evangelists’ accounts show not to have been the case. Objections on this head are therefore really objections to the Resurrection, not to the Ascension. ( b ) It is impossible to regard the account in Acts 1 as a myth unless we adopt the now exploded theory that the whole gospel story is such. The narrative bears the same stamp of truth as the evangelical records. For example, Sanday well points out the authentic touch about the disciples desiring the restoration of the earthly kingdom of Israel (v. 8f.; see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 643a). However we may interpret the narrative, there can be little doubt that it represents what the eye-witnesses believed to have taken place.

But an allegation of Harnack must be briefly noticed here, as it deals with the facts. He says that the special prominence given to the Ascension in the Creeds is a deviation from the oldest teaching, and that in the primitive tradition the Ascension had no separate place ( Das apost. Glaubensbekenntniss , Berlin, 1892). He alleges the silence of the Synoptists, of St. Paul in  1 Corinthians 15:3 ff., and of the chief sub-apostolic writers; the placing, in some old accounts, of the Session after the Resurrection as if they were one act; and the discrepancy noted above as to the interval between the Resurrection and the Ascension. These allegations have been ably answered by Swete ( Ap. Creed , ch. vi.). The argument from silence (always precarious) is invalid in the case of Mt. and Mk., which do not carry the narrative so far as the Ascension (the end of Mk. is lost); at best it hardly applies to Lk. (see above, § 1), and the mention of the Ascension in  1 Corinthians 15:3 ff. would have been irrelevant to St. Paul’s argument. Moreover, the Ascension belongs to the history of the Church rather than to the gospel narrative, and therefore it is not to be expected that it should be found there except in allusion. It is hard to see any force in the argument from St. Paul’s silence in one place when elsewhere he so emphatically states his belief in the Ascension. As to the sub-apostolic writers, the Ascension is explicitly mentioned by ‘Barnabas’ (§ 15), by Justin ( Dial . 38), and is probably referred to by Ignatius ( Magn . 7). The allegation that the Session and the Resurrection were regarded as one act may be tested by  Romans 8:34, where St. Paul names successively the Death, Resurrection, Session, and Intercession of Christ. If the second and third of these are one act, why not also the first and fourth? The argument from the interval has already been dealt with (above, § 4). For fuller details, see Swete, Ap. Creed. It is quite intelligible that those who believe that our Lord is mere Man should find difficulties in the doctrine that He ascended; but it is not really possible to maintain that the disciples did not believe it.

6. Importance of the Ascension for the practical life. -This has been indirectly pointed out above (§ 3 ). The Ascension shows that the work of Christ for man has never ceased, but is permanent, although He has never needed to repeat His sacrifice. It has brought Jesus into closer touch with us; He has never ceased to be Man, and in the heavenly sphere is not removed far away from us, but is with us until the end of the world ( Matthew 28:20). He raises our ideals from earthly things to heavenly; and, giving us through the Spirit the new life which enables us to follow Him, by His Ascension teaches us the great Sursum Corda  : ‘Lift up your hearts; we lift them up unto the Lord.’

Literature.-W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord (Baird Lecture), London, 1892; H. B. Swete, The Apostles’ Creed , Cambridge, 1894, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament , London, 1909, Appendix E, The Appearances of our Lord after the Passion , do. 1907, The Ascended Christ , do. 1910; J. Pearson, On the Creed , articlevi.; J. Denney, article‘Ascension,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i.; W. Sanday, article‘Jesus Christ,’ ib. ii.; A. S. Martin, article‘Ascension,’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i.; J. G. Simpson, article‘Ascension,’ in Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible  ; J. H. Bernard, article‘Assumption and Ascension,’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ii.; B. F. Westcott, Com. on Hebrews , London, 1906; R. L. Ottley, The Rule of Faith and Hope , do. 1912, p. 82ff.; A. J. Tait, The Heavenly Session of our Lord , do. 1912; S. C. Gayford, elaborate review of foregoing, in Journal of Theological Studies xiv. [1913] 458.

A. J. Maclean.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

ASCENSION . The fact of our Lord’s Ascension is treated very scantily in the Synoptic Gospels. From Mt. it is entirely omitted. In the appendix to Mk. the words in which it is stated are rather the formula of a creed than the narrative of an event (  Mark 16:19 ). Lk. is somewhat more circumstantial, and, though the chronology is uncertain, mentions the journey to the neighbourhood of Bethany and the disappearance of Christ in the act of blessing, together with the return of the disciples to Jerusalem (  Luke 24:50-52 ). The narrative, meagre as it is, is not inconsistent with, and may even presuppose, the events recorded at greater length in Acts (  Acts 1:6-12 ). Here we learn that the scene was more precisely the Mount, of Olives (  Acts 1:12 ); that the final conversation, to which allusion is possibly made in   Mark 16:19 , concerned the promise of the Holy Spirit (  Mark 16:6-8 ); and that the Ascension, so far as it was an event and therefore a subject of testimony, took the form of the uplifting of the bodily form of Jesus from the earth till it disappeared in a cloud (  Mark 16:9-10 ). Whether this experience involved more than the separation of Christ from immediate contact with the earth, and included His gradual recession into the upper air, there is nothing directly to show. The general form of the narrative recalls the Transfiguration (  Luke 9:28-36 ||). The words of the ‘two men in white apparei’ (  Luke 9:10 ) suggest that the final impression was that of disappearance above the heads of the onlookers (  Luke 9:11 ). It will be noticed that, while the Markan appendix and Luke, unless the latter narrative is interpolated, blend fact and figure (  Mark 16:19 ‘received up [fact] into heaven [partly fact, partly figure], and sat down at the right hand of God [figure]’;   Luke 24:51 ‘he parted from them [fact], and was carried up into heaven [partly fact, partly figure; but see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ],’ as must necessarily be the case where the doctrine of the Ascension is concerned; Acts, on the other hand, which purports to describe an event, rigidly keeps within the limits of testimony.

There are certain anticipations of the Ascension in the Gospels which must be regarded as part of their witness to it. Thus Lk. introduces the account of our Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem with the words ‘when the days were being fulfilled that he should be received up’ ( Luke 9:51 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). It is probable that the Ascension is here delicately blended with the Crucifixion, as apparently by Christ Himself in   John 12:32 . Again, the word exodos in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, rendered in the text of RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘decease,’ but marg. ‘departure,’ seems to have the same double reference (  Luke 9:31 ). Our Lord’s predictions of the Second Coming ‘on the clouds’ (  Matthew 24:30;   Matthew 26:64; cf.   1 Thessalonians 4:16 ,   Revelation 1:7 ) almost necessarily imply the Ascension. The Fourth Gospel, while in its accustomed manner omitting the story of the Ascension, probably regarded as known, introduces definite references to it on the part of Christ both before and after the Resurrection (  John 6:62;   John 7:33;   John 14:19;   John 14:28;   John 16:28;   John 20:17 etc.). And if we compare statements in the Epistles (  Ephesians 4:8 ,   Hebrews 1:3;   Hebrews 4:14 ) with the Ascension narrative, it is scarcely possible to doubt that the writers accepted the historic fact as the basis of their teaching. To this must be added all those passages which speak of Jesus as exalted to the right hand or throne of God (  Romans 8:34 ,   Ephesians 1:20 ,   Hebrews 10:12 etc.), and as returning to earth in the glory of the Father (  Matthew 25:31 ,   Mark 8:38 ,   Philippians 3:20 etc.). In connexion with the Session, St. Peter, after mentioning the Resurrection, uses the expression ‘having gone his way into heaven’ (  1 Peter 3:22 , cf.   John 14:3 ). Nor can we omit such considerations as arise out of the fact of the Resurrection itself, which are satisfied only by an event that puts a definite period to the earthly manifestation of the incarnate Christ.

From what has been said it will appear that the Ascension stands on a somewhat different level from the Resurrection as an attested fact. Like the Virgin-birth, it did not form a part of the primitive preaching, nor does it belong to the evidences of Christianity. The fragment of what is thought to be a primitive hymn quoted in  1 Timothy 3:16 somewhat curiously places ‘preached among the nations’ before ‘received up in glory.’ But it is nevertheless a fact which came within the experience of the Apostles, and can therefore claim a measure of historical testimony. The Resurrection is itself the strongest witness to the reality of the Ascension, as of the Virgin-birth, nor would either in the nature of the case have been capable of winning its way to acceptance apart from the central faith that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But neither the fact itself nor its importance to the Christian believer depends upon the production of evidence for its occurrence. It will not be seriously disputed by those who accept the Apostolic gospel. On the other hand, the fact that the Ascension was accepted in the primitive Church as the event which put a term to the earthly manifestation of Christ brings out the Resurrection in striking relief as in the full sense of the word a fact of history. It is the Ascension, represented as it is in Scripture not only historically but mystically, and not the Resurrection, which might be viewed as an apotheosis or idealization of Jesus. That ‘Jesus is now living at the right hand of God’ (Harnack) is not a sufficient account of the Christian belief in the Resurrection in view of the Ascension narrative, which, even if Keim and others are right in regarding it as a materialization of the doctrine of the eternal Session as set forth in the Epistles, becomes necessary only when the Resurrection is accepted in the most literal sense.

The Ascension is the point of contact between the man Jesus Christ of the Gospeis and the mystical Christ of the Epistles, preserving the historical character of the former and the universality of the latter in true continuity. It enabled the disciples to identify the gift of Pentecost with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which had been specially connected with the withdrawal of Jesus from bodily sight and His return to the Father ( John 16:7; cf.   John 7:39 ). An eternal character is thus given to the sacrifice of the death of Christ, which becomes efficacious through the exaltation of His crucified and risen manhood (  Hebrews 10:11-14;   Hebrews 10:19-22 ).

J. G. Simpson.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [3]

This term is constantly applied to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven from whence He came.  John 3:13 . Leading His eleven apostles out as far as Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, in the act of blessing them He ascended up to heaven, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.  Mark 16:19;  Luke 24:50,51;  Acts 1:9 . The ascension of the Lord Jesus is a momentous fact for His saints: the One who bore their sins on the cross has been received up in glory, and sits on the right hand of God.

As forerunner He has entered into heaven for the saints, and has been made a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.  Hebrews 6:20 . His ascension assured, according to His promise, the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was accomplished at Pentecost.  John 16:7;  Acts 1:4,8;  Acts 2:1-47 . As ascended He became Head of His body the church,  Ephesians 1:22 , and gave gifts to men, among which gifts are evangelists who preach to the world, and pastors and teachers to care for and instruct the saints.  Psalm 68:18;  Ephesians 4:8-13 .

His ascension is a demonstration through the presence of the Holy Spirit that sin is in the world and righteousness in heaven, for the very One they rejected has been received by the Father into heaven.  John 16:10 . The ascension is also a tremendous fact for Satan: the prince of this world has been judged who led the world to put the Lord to death; and in His ascension He led captivity captive, having broken the power of death in which men were held,  Ephesians 4:8 , for He had in the cross spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  Colossians 2:15 .

Above all, the ascension is a glorious fact for the blessed Lord Himself. Jehovah said unto Him, "Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool."  Psalm 110:1 . He has taken His place as man where man never was before, and He is also glorified with the glory which He had before the world was, besides the glory which He graciously shares with His saints.  John 17:5,22 .

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [4]

With peculiar reference to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Psalmist demands, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" ( Psalms 24:3) And in answer to the enquiry, we may truly say, that the glorious doctrine of the ascension is never cordially received, nor indeed properly understood, until that we are taught by the Lord the Spirit, to have both a just apprehension of his person who is ascended, and the blessed purposes included in that ascension for his church and people. The personal honour put upon Christ in our nature, and the oneness and interest all his redeemed have in that honour, are among the first and most important views we are called upon everlastingly to cherish in the heart, concerning our risen and exalted Saviour. It is our nature in the person of the man Christ Jesus that is thus exalted. And the purpose of that exaltation is, to receive gifts for men: or, as the margin of our Bibles renders the expression, it is to receive gifts in the man, even the human nature of Christ. ( Psalms 68:18) Oh! precious, precious in the Godhead of Christ's nature, no gifts could be received, all things being his in common with the Father and the Holy Ghost; so when received by Christ, as the Head of his body the church, it is as the Head of communication in "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." ( Ephesians 1:22-23) And when this blessed doctrine is fully received, and lived upon, and enjoyed, what unknown blessings are contained in this one view, which the soul hath in this unceasing contemplation of our glorious and ascended Lord Jesus!

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]

 Genesis 5:24 2 Kings 2:1-2 Acts 1:9 John 14:2 John 16:5 John 16:7 Acts 7:54-60 Acts 9:1-18 2 Corinthians 2:12-14 Ephesians 1:20-23 Ephesians 4:7-12 Colossians 3:1-4 2 Timothy 4:16-18 Hebrews 2:9 Hebrews 4:14 Revelation 1:1 Revelation 3:19-22

Most of all the ascension combined with the resurrection exalted Christ ( Philippians 2:9 ). Contrasted to Christ's act of humbling Himself to move from heaven to earth and especially to the cross ( Philippians 2:5-8 ) is God's act of exalting Jesus to the highest position in the universe, in charge of everything that exists and all that happens. Thus in ascension Jesus showed He had defeated death for good and made eternal life possible. The ascension thus calls on all people to bow in worship and obedience to the Ascended One ( Philippians 2:10 ).

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

The visible ascent of Christ to heaven. When our Savior had repeatedly conversed with his apostles during forty days, after his resurrection, and afforded them infallible proofs of its reality, he led them out to the Mount of Olives, and was raised up to heaven in their sight, there to continue till he shall come again at the last day to judge the quick and the dead,  Acts 1:9,11 . The ascension was demonstrated by the descent of the Holy Ghost,

  John 16:7-14   Acts 2:1-47 . It was Christ's real human nature that ascended; and he thus triumphed gloriously over death and hell, as head of his body the church. While he blessed his disciples he was parted from them and multitudes of the angelic hosts accompanied and welcomed him,  Psalm 24:9   68:17 . The consequences resulting from his ascension are: the fulfilment of types and prophecies concerning it; his appearance as a priest in the presence of God for us; his more open and full assumption of his kingly office; his receiving gifts for men; his opening the way to heaven for his people.  Hebrews 10:19,20; and assuring his saints of their ascension to heaven after the resurrection of the dead,  John 14:1,2 .

Webster's Dictionary [7]

(1): (n.) Specifically: The visible ascent of our Savior on the fortieth day after his resurrection. (Acts i. 9.) Also, Ascension Day.

(2): (n.) The act of ascending; a rising; ascent.

(3): (n.) An ascending or arising, as in distillation; also that which arises, as from distillation.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [8]

See Jesus Christ sub-heading ‘Resurrection and exaltation of Jesus’.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

a - sen´shun  : Most modern Lives of Christ commence at Bethlehem and end with the Ascension, but Christ's life began earlier and continued later. The Ascension is not only a great fact of the New Testament, but a great factor in the life of Christ and Christians, and no complete view of Jesus Christ is possible unless the Ascension its consequences are included. It is the consummation of His redemptive work. The Christ of the Gospels is the Christ of history, the Christ of the past, but the full New Testament picture of Christ is that of a living Christ, the Christ of heaven, the Christ of experience, the Christ of the present and the future. The New Testament passages referring to the Ascension need close study and their teaching careful observation.

I. In the Gospels

1. Anticipations

The Ascension is alluded to in several passages in the Gospels in the course of our Lord's earthly ministry ( Luke 9:31 ,  Luke 9:51;  John 6:62;  John 7:33;  John 12:32;  John 14:12 ,  John 14:28;  John 16:5 ,  John 16:10 ,  John 16:17 ,  John 16:28;  John 20:17 ). These passages show that the event was constantly in view, and anticipated by our Lord. The Ascension is also clearly implied in the allusions to His coming to earth on clouds of heaven ( Matthew 24:30;  Matthew 26:64 ).

2. Records

If with most modern scholars we regard Mark's Gospel as ending with  Mark 16:8 , it will be seen to stop short at the resurrection, though the present ending speaks of Christ being received up into heaven, of His sitting at the right hand of God, and of His working with the disciples as they went preaching the word ( Mark 16:19 ,  Mark 16:20 ). In any case this is a bare summary only. The close of the Third Gospel includes an evident reference to the fact of the Ascension (Lk 24:28-53), even if the last six words of  Luke 24:51 , "and was carried up into heaven" are not authentic. No difficulty need be felt at the omission of the Fourth Gospel to refer to the fact of the Ascension, though it was universally accepted at the time the apostle wrote ( John 20:17 ). As Dr. Hort has pointed out, "The Ascension did not lie within the proper scope of the Gospels ... its true place was at the head of the Acts of the Apostles" (quoted Swete, The Ascended Christ , 2).

II. In the Acts

1. Record

The story in  Acts 1:6-12 is clear. Jesus Christ was on the Mount of Olives. There had been conversation between Him and His disciples, and in the course of it He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight (  Acts 1:9 ). His body was uplifted till it disappeared, and while they continued to gaze up they saw two men who assured them that He would come back exactly as He had gone up. The three Greek words rendered "taken up" (ἐπήρθη , epḗrthē ) ( Acts 1:9 ); "went" (πορευομένου , poreuoménou ) ( Acts 1:10 ); "received up" (αναλημφθείς , analēmphtheı́s ) ( Acts 1:11 ); deserve careful notice. This account must either be attributed to invention, or to the testimony of an eye-witness. But Luke's historicity now seems abundantly proved.

2. References

The Ascension is mentioned or implied in several passages in  Acts 2:33;  Acts 3:21;  Acts 7:55 f;   Acts 9:3-5;  Acts 22:6-8;  Acts 26:13-15 . All these passages assert the present life and activity of Jesus Christ in heaven.

III. In the Pauline Epistles

1. Romans

In  Romans 8:34 the apostle states four facts connected with Christ Jesus: His death; His resurrection; His session at God's right hand; His intercession. The last two are clearly the culminating points of a series of redemptive acts.

2. Ephesians

While for its purpose Romans necessarily lays stress on the Resurrection, Ephesians has as part of its special aim an emphasis on the Ascension. In  Ephesians 1:20 God's work wrought in Christ is shown to have gone much farther than the Resurrection, and to have "made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places," thereby constituting Him the supreme authority over all things, and especially Head of the church (  Ephesians 1:20-23 ). This idea concerning Christ is followed in  Ephesians 2:6 by the association of believers with Christ "in the heavenly places," and the teaching finds its completest expression in   Ephesians 4:8-11 , where the Ascension is connected with the gift of the heavenly Christ as the crowning feature of His work. Nothing is more striking than the complementary teaching of Romans and Ephesians respectively in their emphasis on the Resurrection and Ascension.

3. Philippians

In  Philippians 2:6-11 the exaltation of Christ is shown to follow His deep humiliation. He who humbled Himself is exalted to the place of supreme authority. In   Philippians 3:20 Christians are taught that their commonwealth is in heaven, "whence also we wait for a Saviour."

4. Thessalonians

The emphasis placed on the second advent of Christ in 1 Thess is an assumption of the fact of the Ascension. Christians are waiting for God's Son from heaven ( Philippians 1:10 ) who is to "descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" ( Philippians 4:16 ).

5. Timothy

The only allusion to the Ascension in the Pastoral Epistles is found in the closing statement of what seems to be an early Christian song in  1 Timothy 3:16 . He who was "manifested in the flesh ... received up in glory."

IV. In Hebrews

In Hebrews there is more recorded about the Ascension and its consequences than in any other part of the New Testament. The facts of the Ascension and Session are first of all stated ( Hebrews 1:3 ) with all that this implies of definite position and authority ( Hebrews 1:4-13 ). Christians are regarded as contemplating Jesus as the Divine Man in heaven ( Hebrews 2:9 ), though the meaning of the phrase, "crowned with glory and honor" is variously interpreted, some thinking that it refers to the result and outcome of His death, others thinking that He was "crowned for death" in the event of the Transfiguration (Matheson in Bruce, Hebrews , 83). Jesus Christ is described as "a great High Priest, who hath passed through the heavens" ( Hebrews 4:14 ), as a Forerunner who is entered within the veil for us, and as a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek ( Hebrews 6:20 ). As such He "abideth for ever," and "ever liveth to make intercession" ( Hebrews 7:24 ,  Hebrews 7:25 ). The chief point of the epistle itself is said to be "such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" ( Hebrews 8:1 ), and His position there implies that He has obtained eternal redemption for His people and is appearing before God on their behalf ( Hebrews 9:12 ,  Hebrews 9:24 ). This session at God's right hand is also said to be with a view to His return to earth when His enemies will have become His footstool ( Hebrews 10:12 ,  Hebrews 10:13 ), and one of the last exhortations bids believers to look unto Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of faith who has "sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" ( Hebrews 12:2 ).

V. In the Petrine Epistles

The only reference to the Ascension is in  1 Peter 3:22 , where Christ's exaltation after His sufferings is set forth as the pattern and guarantee of Christian glorification after endurance of persecution.

VI. In the Johannine Writings

1. Epistles

Nothing is recorded of the actual Ascension, but  1 John 2:1 says that "we have an Advocate with the Father." The word "Advocate" is the same as "Comforter" in   John 14:16 , where it is used of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Comforter "in relation to the Father," and the Holy Spirit is the Comforter dwelling in the soul.

2. Apocalypse

All the references in the Apocalypse either teach or imply the living Christ who is in heaven, as active in His church and as coming again ( Revelation 1:7 ,  Revelation 1:13;  Revelation 5:5-13;  Revelation 6:9-17;  Revelation 14:1-5 ).

VII. Summary of New Testament Teaching

1. The Fact

The New Testament calls attention to the fact of Ascension and the fact of the Session at God's right hand. Three words are used in the Greek in connection with the Ascension: anabaı́nein ( ascendere ), "to go up"; analambánesthai ( adsumi ), "to be taken up"; poreúesthaı̄ "to go." The Session is connected with  Psalm 110:1-7 , and this Old Testament passage finds frequent reference or allusion in all parts of the New Testament. But it is used especially in He in connection with Christ's priesthood, and with His position of authority and honor at God's right hand (Swete, The Ascended Christ , 10-15). But the New Testament emphasizes the fact of Christ's exaltation rather than the mode, the latter being quite secondary. Yet the acceptance of the fact must be carefully noticed, for it is impossible to question that this is the belief of all the New Testament writers. They base their teaching on the fact and do not rest content with the moral or theological aspects of the Ascension apart from the historic reality. The Ascension is regarded as the point of contact between the Christ of the gospels and of the epistles. The gift of the Spirit is said to have come from the ascended Christ. The Ascension is the culminating point of Christ's glorification after His Resurrection, and is regarded as necessary for His heavenly exaltation. The Ascension was proved and demanded by the Resurrection, though there was no need to preach it as part of the evangelistic message. Like the Virgin birth, the Ascension involves doctrine for Christians rather than non-Christians. It is the culmination of the Incarnation, the reward of Christ's redemptive work, and the entrance upon a wider sphere of work in His glorified condition, as the Lord and Priest of His church ( John 7:39;  John 16:7 ).

2. The Message

We may summarize what the New Testament tells us of our Lord's present life in heaven by observing carefully what is recorded in the various passages of the New Testament. He ascended into heaven ( Mark 16:19;  Luke 24:51;  Acts 1:9 ); He is seated on the right hand of God ( Colossians 3:1;  Hebrews 1:3;  Hebrews 8:1;  Hebrews 10:12 ); He bestowed the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost ( Acts 4:9 ,  Acts 4:33 ); He added disciples to the church ( Acts 2:47 ); He worked with the disciples as they went forth preaching the gospel ( Mark 16:20 ); He healed the impotent man ( Acts 3:16 ); He stood to receive the first martyr ( Acts 7:56 ); He appeared to Saul of Tarsus ( Acts 9:5 ); He makes intercession for His people ( Romans 8:26;  Hebrews 7:25 ); He is able to succor the tempted ( Hebrews 2:18 ); He is able to sympathize ( Hebrews 4:15 ); He is able to save to the uttermost ( Hebrews 7:25 ); He lives forever ( Hebrews 7:24;  Revelation 1:18 ); He is our Great High Priest ( Hebrews 7:26;  Hebrews 8:1;  Hebrews 10:21 ); He possesses an intransmissible or inviolable priesthood ( Hebrews 7:24 ); He appears in the presence of God for us ( Hebrews 9:24 ); He is our Advocate with the father ( 1 John 2:1 ); He is waiting until all opposition to Him is overcome ( Hebrews 10:13 ). This includes all the teaching of the New Testament concerning our Lord's present life in heaven.

VIII. Problems

There are two questions usually associated with the Ascension which need our attention.

1. Relation to the Laws of Nature

There is no greater difficulty in connection with the Ascension than with the Resurrection, or the Incarnation. Of our Lord's resurrection body we know nothing. All we can say is that it was different from the body laid in the tomb and yet essentially the same; the same and yet essentially different. The Ascension was the natural close of Our Lord's earthly life, and as such, is inseparable from the Resurrection. Whatever, therefore, may be said of the Resurrection in regard to the laws of nature applies equally to the Ascension.

2. Localization of the Spiritual World

The record in Acts is sometimes objected to because it seems to imply the localization of heaven above the earth. But is not this taking the narrative in too absolutely bald and literal a sense? Heaven is at once a place and a state, and as personality necessarily implies locality, some place for our Lord's Divine, yet human person is essential. To speak of heaven as "above" may be only symbolical, but the ideas of fact and locality must be carefully adhered to. And yet it is not merely local, and "we have to think less of a transition from one locality than of a transition from one condition to another.... the real meaning of the ascension is that ... our Lord withdrew from a world of limitations" to that higher existence where God is (Milligan, Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood , 26). It matters not that our conception today of the physical universe is different from that of New Testament times. We still speak of the sun setting and rising, though strictly these are not true. The details of the Ascension are really unimportant. Christ disappeared from view, and no question need be raised either of distance or direction. We accept the fact without any scientific explanation. It was a change of conditions and mode of existence; the essential fact is that He departed and disappeared. Even Keim admits that "the ascension of Jesus follows from all the facts of His career" (quoted, Milligan, 13), and Weiss is equally clear that the Ascension is as certain as the Resurrection, and stands and fails therewith (Milligan, 14).

IX. Its Relation to Christ Himself

The Ascension was the exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ after His work was accomplished ( Philippians 2:9 ). He had a threefold glory: (1) as the Son of God before the Incarnation ( John 17:5 ); (2) as God manifest in the flesh ( John 1:14 ); (3) as the exalted Son of God after the Resurrection and Ascension ( Luke 24:26;  1 Peter 1:21 ). The Ascension meant very much to Christ Himself, and no study of subject must overlook this aspect of New Testament teaching. His exaltation to the right hand of meant (1) The proof of victory ( Ephesians 4:8 ); (2) The position of honor ( Psalm 110:1 ); (3) The place of power ( Acts 2:33 ); (4) The place of happiness ( Psalm 26:11 ); (5) The place of rest ("seated"); (6) The place of permanence ("for ever").

X. Its Teaching for Christians

The importance of the Ascension for Christians lies mainly in the fact that it was the introduction to our Lord's present life in heaven which means so much in the believer's life. The spiritual value of the Ascension lies, not in Christ's physical remoteness, but in His spiritual nearness. He is free from earthly limitations, and His life above is the promise and guarantee of ours. "Because I live ye shall live also."

1. Redemption Accomplished

The Ascension and Session are regarded as the culminating point of Christ's redemptive work ( Hebrews 8:1 ), and at the same time the demonstration of the sufficiency of His righteousness on man's behalf. For sinful humanity to reach heaven two essential features were necessary: ( a ) The removal of sin (negative); and ( b ) The presence of righteousness (positive). The Resurrection demonstrated the sufficiency of the atonement for the former, and the Ascension demonstrated the sufficiency of righteousness for the latter. The Spirit of God was to convict the world of "righteousness" "because I go to the Father" ( John 16:10 ). In accord with this we find that in the Epistle to the He every reference to our Lord's atonement is in the past, implying completeness and perfection, "once for all."

2. High Priesthood

This is the peculiar and special message of He. Priesthood finds its essential features in the representation of man to God, involving access into the Divine presence ( Hebrews 5:1 ). It means drawing near and dwelling near to God. In He, Aaron is used as typical of the work, and Melchizedek as typical of the person of the priest; and the two acts mainly emphasized are the offering in death and the entrance into heaven. Christ is both priest and priestly victim. He offered propitiation and then entered into heaven, not "with," but "through" His own blood ( Hebrews 9:12 ), and as High Priest, at once human and Divine, He is able to sympathize ( Hebrews 4:15 ); able to succor ( Hebrews 2:18 ); and able to save ( Hebrews 7:25 ). See Christ As Priest .

3. Lordship

The Ascension constituted Christ as Head of the church ( Ephesians 1:22;  Ephesians 4:10 ,  Ephesians 4:15;  Colossians 2:19 ). This Headship teaches that He is the Lord and Life of the church. He is never spoken of as King in relation to His Body, the Church, only as Head and Lord. The fact that He is at the right hand of God suggests in the symbolical statement that He is not yet properly King on His own throne, as He will be hereafter as "King of the Jews," and "King of Kings."

4. Intercession

In several New Testament passages this is regarded as the crowning point of our Lord's work in heaven ( Romans 8:33 ,  Romans 8:34 ). He is the perfect Mediator between God and man ( 1 Timothy 2:5;  Hebrews 8:6 ); our Advocate with the Father ( 1 John 2:1 ). His very presence at God's right hand pleads on behalf of His people. There is no presentation, or representation, or pleading, of Himself, for His intercession is never associated with any such relation to the sacrifice of Calvary. Nor is there any hint in the New Testament of a relation between the Eucharist and His life and work in heaven. This view popularized by the late Dr. William Milligan ( The Ascension , etc., 266), and endorsed from other standpoints in certain aspects of Anglican teaching (Swete, The Ascended Christ , 46), does not find any support in the New Testament. As Westcott says, "The modern conception of Christ, pleading in heaven His passion, 'offering His blood,' on behalf of man, has no foundation in this epistle" ( Hebrews , 230). And Hort similarly remarks, "The words, 'Still ... His prevailing death He pleads' have no apostolic warrant, and cannot even be reconciled with apostolic doctrine" ( Life and Letters , II, 213). our Lord's intercession is He says as in what He is. He pleads by His presence on His Father's throne, and he is able to save to the uttermost through His intercession, because of His perpetual life and His inviolable, undelegated, intransmissible priesthood ( Hebrews 7:24 ,  Hebrews 7:25 ).

5. The Gift of the Spirit

There is an intimate and essential connection between the Ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to Christ as the acknowledgment and reward of His work done, and having received this "Promise of the Father" He bestowed Him upon His people ( Acts 2:33 ). By means of the Spirit the twofold work is done, of convincing sinners ( John 16:9 ), and of edifying believers ( John 14:12; see also  John 14:25 ,  John 14:26;  John 16:14 ,  John 16:15 ).

6. Presence

It is in connection with the Ascension and our Lord's life in heaven that we understand the force of such a passage as "Lo, I am with you always" ( Matthew 28:20 ). "He ever liveth" is the supreme inspiration of the individual Christian and of the whole church. All through the New Testament from the time of the Ascension onward, the one assurance is that Christ is living; and in His life we live, hold fellowship with God, receive grace for daily living and rejoice in victory over sin, sorrow and death.

7. Expectation

Our Lord's life in heaven looks forward to a consummation. He is "expecting till his enemies be made his footstool" ( Hebrews 10:13 the King James Version). He is described as our Forerunner (  Hebrews 6:18 ), and His presence above is the assurance that His people will share His life hereafter. But His Ascension is also associated with His coming again ( Philippians 3:20 ,  Philippians 3:21;  1 Thessalonians 4:16;  Hebrews 9:28 ). At this coming there will be the resurrection of dead saints, and the transformation of living ones ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ,  1 Thessalonians 4:17 ), to be followed by the Divine tribunal with Christ as Judge ( Romans 2:16;  2 Timothy 4:1 ,  2 Timothy 4:8 ). To His own people this coming will bring joy, satisfaction and glory ( Acts 3:21;  Romans 8:19 ); to His enemies defeat and condemnation ( 1 Corinthians 15:25;  Hebrews 2:8;  Hebrews 10:13 ).

Reviewing all the teaching of our Lord's present life in heaven, appearing. on our behalf, interceding by His presence, bestowing the Holy Spirit, governing and guiding the church, sympathizing, helping and saving His people, we are called upon to up "lift our hearts," for it is in occupation with the living that we find the secret of peace, the assurance of access, and the guaranty of our permanent relation to God. Indeed, we are clearly taught in He that it is in fellowship with the present life of Christ in heaven that Christians realize the difference between spiritual immaturity and maturity ( Hebrews 6:1;  Hebrews 10:1 ), and it is the purpose of this epistle to emphasize this truth above all others. Christianity is "the religion of free access to God," and in proportion as we realize, in union with Christ in heaven, this privilege of drawing near and keeping near, we shall find in the attitude of "lift up your hearts" the essential features of a strong, vigorous, growing, joyous Christian life.


Milligan, Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord  ; Swete, The Appearances of the Risen Lord  ; The Ascended Christ  ; Lacey, The Historic Christ  ; Lives of Christ, by Neander, B. Weiss, Edersheim, Farrar, Geikie, Gilbert; Fairbairn, Studies in the Life of Christ  ; Knowling, Witness of the Epistles  ; Bernard in The Expositor T, 1900-1901, 152-55; Bruce in The Expositor . Greek Test, I; Swete, Apostles' Creed  ; Westcott, Historic Faith , chapter vi; Revelation of the Risen Lord , chapters x, xi; Epesians to Hebrews  ; article "Ascension" in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); Paget, Studies in the Christian Character , sermons xxi, xxii; Findlay, Things Above  ; article. "Priest" in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) (in New Testament), "Hebrews"; Davidson, Hebrews , special note on "Priesthood of Christ"; Dimock, Our One Priest on High  ; The Christian Doctrine of Sacerdotium  ; Perowne, Our High Priest in Heaven  ; Rotherham, Studies in He  ; Soames, The Priesthood of the New Covenant  ; Hubert Brooke, The Great High Priest  ; H. W. Williams, The Priesthood of Christ  ; J. S. Candlish, The Christian Salvation (1899), 6; G. Milligan, The Theol. of Ep. to Heb (1899), 111; R. C. Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood (1897); A. S. Peake, "Hebrews" in Century Bible  ; Beyschlag, New Testament Theol ., II, 315; article "Ascension" in Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels  ; article "Assumption and Ascension" in HDRE  ; article "Ascension" in JE  ; Charles, The Book of Enoch  ; The Slavonic Secrets of En  ; The Book of Jub  ; The Apocalypse of Bar  ; The Ascension Isaiah .; Assumption of Moses  ; M. R. James, "Testament of Abraham" TS , II, 2, 1892; Martensen, Christian Dogmatics .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [10]

The event spoken of under this title is among those which Christians of every age have contemplated with the most profound satisfaction. It was in his ascension that Christ exhibited the perfect triumph of humanity over every antagonist, whether in itself, or in the circumstances under which it may be supposed to exist. The contemplation of this, the entrance of the Redeemer into glory, inspired the prophets of old with the noblest views of his kingdom. 'Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them' ( Psalms 68:18); and 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in' ( Psalms 24:9). That something of vast importance, in respect to the completion of the great scheme of salvation, was involved in this event, appears from the words of our Lord himself, 'Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God and your God' ( John 20:17). Nor was it till this had taken place that He poured out the grace of the Spirit upon His church, or began the higher exercises of His office as a mediating priest. In the primitive church, the feast of the Ascension, called also by St. Chrysostom the Assumption of Christ, was considered, like the solemn days of the Nativity and the Passion, as of apostolic origin. St. Chrysostom, in his homily on the subject, calls it an illustrious and refulgent day, and describes the exaltation of Christ as the grand proof of God's reconciliation to mankind.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [11]

A bare volcanic island in the Atlantic, rising to nearly 3000 ft., belonging to Britain, 500 m. NW. of St. Helena, and 900 m. from the coast of Africa; a coaling and victualling station for the navy.