He is gone! Jesus is no longer here because He has ascended. There are tensions in the Christian life that we are meant to feel, and the ascension presents us with one of them. It is true that Jesus said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age, but He did not mean that He would always be with us bodily. Though He is with us in one sense, His absence is something with which every believer must wrestle.
We feel His absence daily as we look at this world. He has left us with His word which speaks authoritatively to everything we need to know regarding faith and practice, but if we could see Him, some of our concerns would probably begin to fade. Though there are those who claim to have taken His place while He is gone, their fraudulent claims are evident by how far they fall short.
While we are left to wrestle with the truth of His absence, we begin to get a glimpse of how important the ascension is to Christian life and doctrine, and while His absence is painful, we must also remember that it is good. Jesus Himself said it was to our benefit that He go away. (John 16:7).
So why is the ascension so important, and how does it benefit us? First, He has sent us the Holy Spirit. Though we are consciously aware of His absence, the Holy Spirit comforts us in our distress. The Spirit continually points us to Jesus and His word. He guides, convicts, and keeps us at all times. It is the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our salvation. He never leaves us. In this way, we are never truly alone, even while we long for Christ’s return.
In the ascension, we also see Jesus properly crowned as king. When He took on flesh and came to walk amongst us, He emptied Himself of His rightful glory to do so. The ascension returns Him to His glorious state, seated at His Father’s right hand. From there He rules and reigns over all things until His enemies are made his footstool (Hebrews 10:12-13). We live during the time when the Kingdom has been established but not yet fulfilled, and we are to march on with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, and as we march as citizens of His kingdom, the gates of hell will not prevail. Our King is on His throne and will reign forever.
The ascension shows us that our greatest hope is real. We long to be with the Father, and through the ascension, Jesus enters the presence of His Father on our behalf. We see this in the fact that Jesus is seated with the Father. His sitting down shows us that the atonement He made for our sins is complete, for no other high-priest in the old covenant was ever allowed to sit in the holy place. Since we are in Christ, we see our acceptance before the Father as well.
Finally, in the ascension, we hear the promise that He will return. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come back for us as well. At that point all things will be set right, the kingdom will reach its full expression, and we will spend eternity with our Savior. Though His absence has its difficulties, those difficulties find their comfort in the Holy spirit and they cannot outweigh the glory that awaits. As believers, this tension should move us to worship. We glory in His ascension while longing for His return.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.” 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 1:6-11