And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The disciples were looking on; the evidence of which they became witnesses was right before their eyes. At the same time, they were also learning to live in that new condition which is always our condition: we continue to look on the ascended Christ. We continue to live on earth as he takes us to heaven in our union with him – for it was a Man who ascended, to take mankind to the very presence of God.
Christ ascends to heaven, not because heaven is somewhere up there. Heaven is neither up nor down. It is beyond the created order, and yet it is also in our midst, for Christ has become man – the eternal Person of the Logos has assumed human nature and forever united it to his divine nature; the kingdom of God is in us. It is transcendent and immanent.
The Man Christ Jesus ascends because, in a real sense, eternal existence before the glory of the Father is higher, it is beyond fallen humanity, it is eternal and indestructible. In Christ, human nature was ascending to the very presence of God, redeemed, deified. In Christ, the God-Man stands before the eternal Father, and shares all of his brightness and glory, power and immortality, love and compassion.
In Christ, all those who are united to him through faith and are his members, and ascend with him to the presence of the Father.
This is what Paul meant when he said to the Ephesians that even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. In mystical union with Christ, we stand before the Father already, until that last day when that union will be consummated forever.
Jesus ascended to the Father. And he ascended in the Spirit. It is only fitting that the Ascension would be a Trinitarian event.
A cloud received Jesus from their eyes. This is the very glory cloud of the Spirit, the Person and the realm in which and in whom glorified men live.
It is that cloud that protected the Israelites when they were delivered from Egypt; it is the cloud, filled with fire, that covered the very presence of God on Mount Sinai.
It was that glory cloud that filled the tabernacle when it was consecrated, and also filled the temple when it was consecrated.
It was that glory cloud that enveloped the transfigured Jesus on the mountain when he gave his apostles a glimpse of his glory.
As we will see in ten days, that cloud comes again with its fire to consecrate the new temple on Pentecost. There were 120 priests blowing trumpets when Solomon’s temple was consecrated and filled with the glory cloud; and so there were 120 in the upper room, during the consecration of the new and true temple.
The apostles were gazing into the sky, and the angels redirect their gaze. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Like they had told the disciples when they were looking for him in the tomb, and the angels said, “why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here!” so now also, in effect, they were saying, Christ is not there in the sky. He is in heaven, and thus he is everywhere, and he is here.
He who has ascended is in all places, and he is here in the Holy Spirit with his Church. And he who has ascended will once again descend, no longer in humiliation, but with the glory of a glorified God-man who will come to consummate the marriage with his bride and established the kingdom forever in the new Jerusalem and the new temple.
The one who will come again already comes in the gathering of the saints, for where two or three are together in his name, there he is also. When we gather in the apostolic Church to eat of his Body and drink of his Blood, our eyes are open and we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
He is in heaven, and he is on earth, he is with the Father and he is with us, for he unites in himself all things. And we, as the Church, become like those angels, proclaiming to the world that the same Man who died and rose again, who ascended to the Father, will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will never end.
The ascension is the proleptic establishment of the kingdom. Let God arise! Let his enemies be scattered! Jesus Christ stands before the presence of the Father as the God-Man, the eternal Son of God, the Logos of God, the Divine Person who in perfect union takes to himself a human nature and thus a human will. Both deified.
The Man Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, i.e., he shares all his glory and power and love in his presence, and so he opens they way for us, fallen humans, to be raised also in union with him; so that we too, as glorified and deified human beings, may stand before the presence of God and not be consumed by him – as Christ had already prayed to the Father, saying, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”
Christ has ascended and we now live in faith, hope and love.
In faith, we are able to look down and see him here with us.
In hope, we look up, knowing that eternal glory and perfect fellowship with God in the presence of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is our ultimate destiny.
In love, we learn that, as it was with Christ, the way to that glory is through suffering and humility. The way up is down first. The way to glory always has to pass through the cross daily.
As Christ sits at the right hand of the Father in glory, after having given himself fully and without reservation for his bride, so we too will sit with him, crowned with his glory, as we learn how to love with the love with which he loved. This new life comes through that love. The one who ascended is the one who died and descended first.
And so we rejoice in our ascended Lord, knowing that we will follow him there when he comes to receive us to himself. We in fact ascend there in the table of the kingdom right before our eyes. And we say with David, in the words of Psalm 68:
God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered . . . the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts [of this life]; his name is the Lord; exult before him! . . . You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation . . . Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. Amen.