Ask most people what May 5 is, and the response will no doubt be “Cinco de Mayo!” Ask them what that means, and you’ll get blank looks (FYI, it commemorates the victory of Mexico over France at the Battle of Puebla, not Mexican Independence Day, and not the discovery of guacamole).
Then tell people that last Thursday was Ascension Day, and expect more blank looks. This event is referred to in the Apostles Creed: “he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” The creed here refers to the ascension and the session of Jesus.
Many might think it would have been better for Jesus to stay on earth, rather than ascend to heaven, that he could do more good by being here in person. The disciples seemed to think that (see John 13:36-37; 14:5; 16:17-18). But Jesus himself tells them, “it is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7). The answer to Heidelberg Catechism 49 (“How does Christ’s ascension benefit us?”) helps us understand why.
First, petition: Jesus pleads our cause before the Father (Romans 8:34; I John 2:1). Second, presence: human flesh, in the person of Jesus, is in heaven, preparing a place for us (John 14:2, 17:24; Ephesians 2:6). Third, promise: Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, a down payment (John 14:6, 16:7; II Corinthians 5:5). Why did Jesus say it was actually better if he went away? Because now our Savior is interceding on our behalf with the Father in his presence, preparing to bring us home to him, and sending the Holy Spirit to live within us. Talk about the best of both worlds! Our advocate is in heaven, and our comforter is on earth.
In his session—his being seated at the right hand of God in heaven—Jesus continues his work as the true prophet, priest, and king. As our prophet, he reveals to us, “by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation” (Acts 2:33; I Peter 1:10-12). As our king, he rules and defends us from the seat of authority and power (Psalm 110:1-2; John 10:27-30). And as our priest?
Do you know what article of furniture was not to be found in either the tabernacle or the temple? Chairs. That’s because the work of the priests was never done; there were always more sacrifices to offer. But as Hebrews 10:11-12 tells us, after Jesus had offered one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at God’s right hand. It is finished (John 19:30)! As the hymn writer Isaac Watts observed, “His powerful blood did once atone, and now it pleads before the throne.”
The last sentence of the catechism answer reads: “By the Spirit’s power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.” (See Colossians 3:1-4) As Kevin DeYoung writes, “The ascension means we are in heaven, right now. Through union with Christ, we truly are not citizens of this world.” Incredible, isn’t it?
If you trust in Christ alone for salvation, remember and praise the risen and ascended Savior who even now sits at the Father’s right hand, praying for you, protecting you, providing for you, and preparing for you.
You have raised our human nature
on the clouds to God’s right hand;
there we’ll sit in heav’nly places,
there with you in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels,
man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in your ascension
we by faith behold our own.
Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder and coordinates our adult Christian education.