Growing up in South Africa, our yearly calendars recorded this event – exactly 40 days after Christ’s Resurrection! Today our calendars no longer record it. So what has happened? When did we decide that it is no longer necessary to have this recorded? Does that mean we no longer observe the remembrance of the promised return of the Saviour? Understand this, Ascension Day is the celebration of Christ ascending into heaven after His death, burial and resurrection.
Now we find this event recorded in Luke 24:49, Mark 16:19 and Acts 1:3, 9. They tell us that Jesus appeared several times to His disciples and others, and He spoke to them further about the kingdom of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit, for whom they were to wait (Acts 1:2-9). Once He ascends, Jesus promises that He would return in glory.
According to Augustine of Hippo, an Early Church Father, the Apostles celebrated this and called it the Feast of Ascension. It is probably one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church. And although we have no written evidence, we have evidence that the church honoured the Ascension Day at least until Augustine’s time in the fourth century. This means that Churches around the world would have observed the Ascension Day Feasts for centuries.
The significance of Ascension Day reminds us that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. And the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father is the source of our hope (1 Peter 1:3).
Folks, after Jesus rose from the dead, He “presented Himself alive” (Acts 1:3) to the women near the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), to His disciples (Luke 24:36-43), and to more than 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:6). Christ proves He has overcome death, and now He appears before His friends for the joy and celebration that our hope is established.
Right before His ascension, Jesus and His disciples went to Mount Olivet and He promises His followers that they would soon receive the Holy Spirit, and He instructed them to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit had come.
And as the disciples strained to catch a last glimpse of Jesus, a cloud hid Him from their view, and two angels appeared and promised Christ’s return “in just the same way that you have watched Him go” (Acts 1:11). Not only does He established our hope, He promises the ultimate fulfilment of that hope.
Therefore, the Ascension itself signalled the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It signified success in His earthly work, in that He accomplished all He was sent to do. It also marked the return of His heavenly glory, just we see a glimpse of His glory at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).
The Ascension also allowed Jesus to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). It indicates the beginning of His new work as High Priest for us (Hebrews 4:14-16), and as Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15).
It gives us the hope for His return, as He is currently at the right hand of the Father, in a position of honour and authority (Hebrews 8:1). Therefore, observing Ascension Day will remind us that Christ is the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), the giver of spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:7-8), and the One who fills all in all (Ephesians 4:9-10). And that He is coming again for His bride, the church (Revelation 19:7).
Let us therefore remind one another of this day, and the ultimate promises we wait for as we long for Christ’s return!