Originally published by The Gospel Coalition Australia
As I have been writing this, I have also been reading the last Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). That’s right, it is 2020 and I am only now reading Harry Potter (maybe after I finish I will get to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings neither of which I have read). Spoiler alert: In the previous book in the series … still time to turn away if you haven’t read it… Harry Potter dies! I was reading it to my 11 year-old son and we were both shocked—devastated even. Surely Harry can’t die?! But, another spoiler alert, all is not as it seems and that like Aslan (sorry again) in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, death is not the end of the story for him.
Well Jesus’ death is not the end of his (true) story either. We Christians typically focus on Jesus’s death as the most important aspect of his story. But the New Testament does not finish at the cross—or even with the resurrection. This is typically where many Christians become a little fuzzy. We celebrate Good Friday, we celebrate Easter Sunday but then the Christian calendar goes a bit quiet until Christmas again. The Christian “calendar’ gives a particular shape to Jesus’ life—birth, death and resurrection. But there is another important event in his story: his ascension.
The risen Jesus appeared to his disciples (and others) over a 40 day period before—and this is where you might think it gets really weird—ascending into heaven to sit at God’s right hand. Jesus, in other words, was not just resurrected for a time to then die at a ripe old age. No, he remained alive and then ascended into heaven. Even many Christians overlook the ascension of Jesus. The idea that after the resurrection, Jesus is seated at God’s right-hand doesn’t really feature in many Christian sermons or even Christian books. But the ascension is critical to understanding who Jesus is. If the resurrection affirms that Jesus lives forever, the ascension affirms that he reigns forever. It affirms his glory. God has exalted his son to the place of glory at his right hand. A human being has been exalted to God’s right hand as Lord forever.
What is Jesus Doing Now?
The ascension also raises the question of what Jesus is doing now—the sort of question that a Christian Sunday school teacher dreads to hear from an 8-year-old class member. The Creed (following the NT e.g. Romans 8:34) affirms that Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of God. The idea of being seated says that his work of salvation is finished. Jesus has done everything that needs to be done to secure our salvation and so is sitting down. But New Testament books like Acts and Hebrews make clear that Jesus does not remain inactive. He is directing the Church and praying for Christians to persevere:
[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25, NIV)
The ascension also points to the obvious fact that Jesus is not here. And perhaps this is another point on which many people find Christianity less than convincing. Christians talk on and on about Jesus … but where is he? If he would just show himself, perform a couple of miracles, then I might believe in him. Well, actually, the testimony of the NT is that even those who did see lots of miracles performed by Jesus didn’t believe in him (John 12:37). But the absence of Jesus points to a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith … that it is exactly that—a faith! Faith is not unreasonable, it is not blind, and it is not screwing up your face until you can convince yourself that something that is not true is actually true. It is none of these things. But faith is not the same as sight. Faith is being convinced—rightly, rationally and firmly—of something that you can’t actually see. The eye-witness accounts of the Gospels and the earth-shattering significance of the resurrection are the basis of the conviction that Jesus is who he says he is. What the Bible says about the ascension reminds the Christian that Jesus is alive today. Yes, he is not here, we can’t speak with him in the same way as we speak with another loved one, but he is alive and he reigns and so it is worth living a life of following him.
 This is the summary of Patrick Schreiner in his book The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine (Bellington: Lexham, 2020).