What does Jesus’ ascension mean theologically? What are its implications for Christian mission, and everyday discipleship? Learn more about the significance of this neglected doctrine of the church with Stephen Seamands’ The Unseen Real: Life in Light of the Ascension of Jesus. You can even study it as a group with the accompanying video sessions in DVD or streaming options. Get it from our store here.
1. Ascension Thursday commemorates the ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father 40 days after the Resurrection, as recorded by Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:2; and referenced in John 6:63; John 20:17; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 4:8-10; Colossians 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:22.
2. The ascension of Jesus serves as his proper enthronement, fulfilling the offer that Satan made to him in the wilderness (Luke 4:5-7).
3. The Eastern Orthodox church refers to the feast of Ascension as analepsis (meaning, the taking up) and episozomene (meaning, the salvation).
4. According to tradition, the ascension took place at Mount Olivet near Bethany.
5. Augustine’s work appears to be the first written evidence of the observance of the feast day on Ascension Thursday, although he traces its origin to the apostles. John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Constitution of the Apostles also make reference to the feast.
6. There are several liturgical customs tied to the ascension: the use of torches in liturgical procession; the blessings of beans and grapes as a symbolic feast for the dead in heaven; the use of processional banners with images of a lion and at his foot a dragon, signifying Christ’s triumph over evil; the elevation of a figure of Christ through the roof of the church.
7. The feast day is observed on Sunday instead of Thursday in many churches in order to allow for Christians to gather properly, since it is not a civic holiday in secular culture.
The early Christians believed that when Jesus ascended into heaven he had been installed and exalted as King, reigning as Lord of all. Today, it’s more tempting to view Christ’s kingship as only symbolic—as we treat contemporary British monarchs. With sin and suffering, pain and brokenness, evil and injustice all around, how dare we proclaim that Jesus is reigning now? So we push his kingship off into the future when he returns.
In The Unseen Real: Life in the Light of the Ascension of Jesus, Dr. Stephen Seamands explores the ascension of Christ, not as it relates to the past or the future but to the “here and now.”