By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
We have been plowing through the doctrine of the Ascension of Christ. First off, we have demonstrated that Jesus “sat down” at the right hand of the Father on the morning of his resurrection. The common idea, totally understandable, is that Jesus did not ascend to the Father until forty days later after his resurrection. This has been challenged by a handful of scholars.
The main reason for this is that in Acts 1.1-ff is appears that Jesus did not ascend until that time. Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that Jesus spoke to his disciples “Until the day in which he was taken up” (1.2). This was in the space of “forty days” (1.3). Finally, “he was taken up, and a cloud did receive him up from their sight.” At this, an angel spoke, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come (erchomai -Greek) in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (1.11). Thus, the “coming” here is related both to his “going” to heaven (here it also equated with a “coming” to heaven). Some have placed emphasis on the fact that a “cloud” is mentioned here, and, therefore, the imagery of the son of man “coming” on a cloud “to heaven” certainly ties in what we have been teaching as of late: Daniel 7.13-14/Psalm 110.
As we have been saying, Daniel 7.13-14 and Psalm 110 are most certainly tied together. They are fulfilled together. In fact, Jesus conflates both of these references together when he spoke to Caiaphas: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26.64). In Daniel, the “son of man coming on the clouds of heaven”, and in Psalm 110, “sit at my right hand” are joined together by Matthew to form one stream between the two. This, for me, is confirmation enough. Every commentary I have consulted notes the same observation.
As we have noted, for Matthew, Jesus’ coming on the clouds of heaven is the parousia (advent) of the “son of man” to the Ancient of Days. It is his ascension to heaven. In Daniel, “power” (exousia) is “given” (didomi) to the son of man. In Matthew 28.18, “all power (exousia) has been given (didomi) to me in heaven and on earth.” This is announced to his disciples before the ascension scene of Acts 1. We have already noted that Daniel used the ‘son of man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with parousia (pareimi – the verb form), as does Matthew 24. If the scene in Acts is depicting the same imagery (“cloud” “taken up to heaven”), then we have further confirmation of our thesis on that note.
However, does this still mean that Jesus did not ascend until forty days later? I answer, no. We have already noted that in John’s Gospel, there is no “ascension” scene, as there is with the other Gospels. This omission has caused a good deal of ink to be spilled. For John, though, he has already made mention of the ascension: the morning of his resurrection on the third day. “Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (John 20.17). We have noted that the verb, “ascending” (captured here in the English Standard Version) is Present Indicative in Greek. We would expect a Future Indicative. Secondly, there is no mention of Jesus waiting forty days until he then ascends. Rather, in his lengthy discourse from chapters 13-17, Jesus is “going to the Father.” This would make sense, then, on the morning of his resurrection to say, “I have not yet ascended…but tell them I am ascending…to my Father and your Father.” In John 6.64, Jesus said, “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” It appears, then, that for John, Jesus ascended the morning of his resurrection. There was no need, then, to record what Luke does: his final ascension.
This brings me to Hebrews. It has always puzzled me that only Luke records Jesus appearing/disappearing for forty days. Yet, if our thesis is correct, this does not mean that he has omitted an earlier reference to his ascension the morning of his resurrection. “Now that same day…” – the day of his resurrection – Jesus talks to two men on the road of Emmaus (Luke 24.13-ff). And he says this to them: ” ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” The verb in bold is Aorist Infinitive (past tense). This would be in complete agreement with Matthew 28.18 where Jesus said, “all power has been given to me.” This equally comports with John. Jesus ascended, went to the Father, and received all power and glory (in answer to Daniel 7.13-14/Psalm 110). Finally, forty days later, after a series of appearing and disappearing, he disappears – but not for good.
Now to Hebrews. Psalm 110, the most often quoted and alluded to psalm in the NT, is sprinkled throughout this letter. Indeed, the letter opens with it: “when he had made purification of sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1.3). There is no indication whatsoever that he waited forty days, then sat down. Rather, “when” he made purification for sins, he sat down. This is repeated: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (10.12). The son of man suffered, then entered his glory. He descended and ascended for forty days until he finally ascended – where “it is necessary that heaven receive him until the times to restore all things” (Acts 3.21). The word “times” here (chronos) is the same in the question asked at his final ascension: “Are at this time you to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus answered: “It is not for you to know the times (chronos – plural) and seasons the Father has set” (Acts 1.6,7). Hence, Peter, in 3.21 notes the ambiguity of when: heaven must receive him (ascension) until the times (chronos) of restoration of all things. “All things” and restoring the Kingdom to Israel was a fixed idea in Second Temple Judaism (First Century) theology: a new heavens and a new earth for Israel (God’s People made of all Nations by faith). This answers to Psalm 110: sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies your footstool. And, further, in that same psalm, “he shall rule in the midst of his enemies.” The author of Hebrews picks this up: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (10.12,13). What is he doing now? Ruling in the midst of his enemies. Paul wrote, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15.24-26).
As we have noted, in conclusion, is that Jesus’ parousia – his coming on the clouds of heaven – is his ascending to the Father. It is what he is doing: the son of man comes on the clouds of heaven before the Father. “For Jesus is not entered into the Holies made with hands, the patterns of the true: but into Heaven itself, that he may appear now in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9.24). This is his parousia before the Father. He appears before the presence of the Father on the clouds of heaven which have received him, the son of man, in heaven. And this coming on the clouds of heaven (parousia) is his reign in heaven and earth (“all power has been given to me in heaven and on earth”). “Behold, he comes with the clouds of heaven” (Revelation 1.7). The verb there is Present Indicative. It is descriptive of his current glory in the heavens: he who comes in the clouds of heaven, the son of man. That John has Daniel 7.13-14 in mind is found in Revelation 1.13, where Jesus is called, “one like to the Son of man” (echoing Daniel 7.13). Jesus, the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven (where he is), appearing before the Father on our behalf and as our High Priest. Every eye will see and acknowledge him – for it is appointed unto man once to die. If you do not know him now, when you die, you will know him then – for you will see him.
What has happened in these things is that our descriptions here have become grouped up into single, future events. Thus, the coming on the clouds has come to be seen as a wholly future event – a single act. When Jesus said to Caiaphas and the Jerusalem Court assembled together at his condemnation, that they would “see the son of man at the right hand coming on the clouds” he was not saying “in a few decades, or hundreds or thousands of years from now.” Rather, when they died, they would see who Jesus Is. It is Jesus who hold the keys of death and the grave (Revelation 1.18). He can come personally to you at any moment – like a thief if you are not “eagerly expecting” him. Eagerly expecting Jesus simply means that one is worshipping Jesus here and now, being filled with the Spirit and renewed daily through prayer, meditation, worship, adoration, and obedience – conforming to His Life. Such worship causes us to long for His presence!
That there is a final descent of the Lord Jesus is found readily in the NT (most notably, 1 Thessalonians 4.16-ff; and several other places). But we know not of that time, when heaven and earth shall pass away and be restored by the creative power of God (Genesis 1.1-ff). However, Jesus can come at any moment. Revelation 3.20 pictures it as such: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” The Judge is standing at the door. My sons and daughter were traveling to Indianapolis last week and noticed on the East Bound side traffic had stopped. A car and several trucks were mangled. We found out later that a person died. My heart immediately thought and hoped that this person was not caught by the One who holds death and the grave in his hands unexpectedly. That Christ had been invited in to eat and dine. That this person, upon expiration, saw Him who comes on the clouds of heaven in heaven with praise and worship. We worship Him, even though we do not see Him – but we know the revelation of His glory: that He is in heavens at the right hand, coming in the clouds of heaven before the Father, ruling in the midst of his enemies, suffering with the world as we suffer as He gathers them out of the world together into himself, making one new man, building stone by stone (people by people) his house until all those he has called and knows from eternity are his.