Image from Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. No known restrictions on publication. Image edited from original.
Early photograph of Jerusalem taken from the Mount of Olives (taken around 1890-1900). From Luke 24.50 and Acts 1.12 we learn that Jesus ascended on the Mount of Olives, in the vicinity of Bethany. The place where this photograph was taken is perhaps close to where the ascension took place. Certainly this view, taken around 120 years ago before the development of the modern city of Jerusalem, is the kind of scene that Jesus and His disciples would have been familiar with. Of course, in Jesus’s day, the great Temple rebuilt by Herod would have dominated the view of the city, rather than the Dome of the Rock which stands on the Temple mount today.
Jesus’s ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article, His ascension is hugely important.
When Jesus returned to His Father at His Ascension He didn’t stop being a Man. Being human wasn’t just a temporary condition that He assumed whilst on Earth and divested Himself of on His return to Heaven. He is still a Man, and will remain so for all eternity.
There is now a Man in heaven – a Man with a physical body. Jesus’s body is glorious, incorruptible, perfect. But it is a true physical body nonetheless.
This has staggering implications for each of us individually, and for our human race as a whole – implications that Dr Needham brings out in his article.
Firstly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven tells us that God is for us. Dr Needham writes: “The eternal Son, the second person of the majestic Godhead, the Creator and sustainer of the universe, he is the human being, a son of man, a child of humanity. . . . . He has the same nature as us. He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. . . . . You may know how it is when you feel lost and alone in a strange place among unknown people and then suddenly you discover someone from your own country or your own city speaking your own language, maybe your very dialect. An instant bond springs up between you and your compatriot. Well, look up to heaven. You won’t just find angels there in all their alien angelic nature; you’ll find a man there; you’ll find a native of your planet who speaks your language.”
Secondly, Jesus’s resurrection and continuing humanity in Heaven is guarantees that we, who believe in Christ, will be resurrected as well. Dr Needham writes: “There is a man in the glory. The dust of the earth has entered the highest heaven. . . . . That has the most profound and the most wonderful significance for us. I’m human and in Jesus Christ humanity has ascended into heaven and lives in glory and so that means the way is opened for me as well and if I, in my humanity, am united to Christ, in his humanity, by the Holy Spirit, human on earth united with human in heaven, then the presence of the ascended Jesus in glory becomes the unbreakable pledge and promise that I will follow him there and I will share his glory.”
Thirdly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven means a Man – a Member of our own human race rules the Universe. That is an astonishing thought. Dr Needham asks: “Who is on the throne of the Universe? Who is King? God we say instinctively, God is the reigning King of the Universe. Our God reigns and that is true, but the New Testament adds a further truth. The man Christ Jesus is on the throne of the universe. . . . . There is a man on the throne of the universe.
This, in turn, has implications for our own destiny. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over this world, saying: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1.28 ESV). But now, as Dr Needham explains “The destiny that Adam lost has been restored and has been more than restored in the second Adam victorious over death. Humanity in Christ has been exalted to be the lord of the entire cosmos, with heaven as well as earth bowing beneath his feet.”
Finally, Jesus’s glorified human nature defines what God intends for our own human nature in the world to come. Dr Needham says: “In other words, it is the man Jesus in his final condition, ascended, glorified, exalted who finally stands before us as the perfect definition of humanity. It is only in the exalted Christ that human nature comes to its full bloom, its full flowering, its final development of powers and capacities. If I want to see what human nature is ultimately capable of I do not look at my own stunted twisted deformed, diseased, shattered and pathetic shell of humanity. No, I look at the man Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. That is real humanity, human nature according to God’s final definition and purpose. . . . . And that’s the pattern according to which God the Father intends to mould you and me. . . . . Our human nature is going to be lifted up and augmented to heights of perfection that currently, frankly, we can only dream about. Our powers and capacities will be wondrously enriched and expanded in ways that are utterly beyond our present understanding when we are glorified.”
He concludes: “Now if all of this is the case, how can you and I be satisfied with earthly pleasures? How can you and I settle down contentedly here, our horizons limited by the activities and ambitions of life on earth; how can we do that? I say this with reverence. We’ve hardly been born yet. For the Christian life on earth is like being in the womb. The real life is yet to come and the ascended exalted Christ is the measure and the pledge of that glorious life.”
I urge you to take a few moments to read this article – and be edified and encouraged.
Dr Needham’s article is available as a PDF HERE.
Rev Dr Nick Needham holds the degrees of BD and PhD from the University of Edinburgh. He has published several books, including three volumes of a projected five-volume series on Church history entitled 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power (see the publisher’s description HERE). He teaches Church History part-time at the Highland Theological College, Dingwall. He recently accepted a call to a pastorate in Inverness.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.