As a native of Wyoming, I have stood on my share of mountain peaks. I’ve hiked to some and driven to more, but I have never been at the top of a mountain and had a member of my group suddenly rise into the sky in the midst of the clouds and vanish from sight. Only eleven people in the history of the world have had that experience.
We find the account in the first chapter of Acts, but other than making a pretty neat Sunday school story, Jesus’ ascension doesn’t usually receive much notice. In fact, I’ve heard this event called the “forgotten act of Christ.” In a way, when Jesus ascends, He becomes “out of sight and out of mind.” However, the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven to take His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high is a very good thing. And it matters to your life today.
To see the importance of Christ’s ascension, I want to take you on a brief trip through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He wrote this letter from prison to encourage the church in Ephesus to live in light of their calling in Christ. Today we might call it living a “Gospel-centered life.” Right out of the gate, Paul hits his readers with just what it means to be a Christ-follower: to have all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Chosen, predestined, adopted, lavished with grace, redeemed, sealed, forgiven—the list goes on for nearly the whole first chapter.
And then Paul moves into telling the Ephesians what he prays for them. He asks that God would open their eyes to know a few things in light of all these blessings he’s just enumerated. First, he wants them to know the hope of their calling, or their identity in Christ. Next, he wants them to know the glorious riches that they are to the Father (not the other way around!). Finally, he wants them to know the power that is at work within them. And this power, he says, is not just any old power.
This is the power that “he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:20-21).
And here we begin to see the importance of the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
Seated in the Heavenly Places
Paul tells us that the power at work in us is the same power that raised Christ from the grave. Surely, resurrection power trumps any other power we can fathom. However, Paul doesn’t stop there. Not only did God raise Christ from the dead, but He also seated Him in the heavenly places.
Let’s pause for a second and think through a couple of important ideas in that last sentence. First, Christ is seated. The epistle of Hebrews mentions this concept several times to emphasize the finality of Jesus’ sacrificial work. The author contrasts Christ’s seated position with the priests who “stand, daily offering time after time the same sacrifices which can never take away sin” (10:11). The earthy priests never finished their work. They always had another lamb to slaughter and more blood to shed. Not Jesus. His sacrifice was one and done. As He cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
The other important concept in Ephesians 1:21 is the term “heavenly places.” At first blush, you may read that as heaven: the place with pearly gates, crystal seas, and gold streets. After all, that’s where Jesus went, right? However, Paul uses the term “heavenly places” throughout Ephesians to refer to the entire supernatural realm. Yes, Jesus sits today at the right hand of the Father in heaven, but His position in the heavenly places is absolutely supreme. He sits “far above” all powers, rulers, and authorities that lurk there. Not just a tick above, but far above. And that, my friend, is life-changing.
Far Above Our Enemies
To understand just why Jesus’ placement far above these spiritual forces in the heavenly places is so important, we need to make a couple more stops in Ephesians. First, consider what Paul tells us about God’s work of salvation:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us … raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4, 6, emphasis added).
Because we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection, we’re also united with Him in His ascension. To put it another way, we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We too are seated far above the spiritual forces of darkness. Our position is the same as Christ’s!
Help in Battle
Finally, let’s hop to the end of Ephesians where Paul discusses the Christian’s battle. By now Paul is well into the nuts and bolts of living out a Gospel-centered life, and he’s about to finish with a discussion of spiritual warfare.
The apostle tells his readers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (6:10) and then calls them to put on the “armor of God” so that they can stand firm against the devil’s strategies. Here we see the great importance of Christ’s ascended position (and ours!).
In verse 11 Paul tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
No one needs to tell you that we are at war. That has been more apparent this year than most. Our enemy doesn’t fight fair, and he doesn’t relent. Like a lion on the prowl, he’s always ready to devour his prey (1 Peter 5:8), and he’ll use whatever means necessary to accomplish this objective.
What hope do we have in this fight? Our hope is in the One seated far above our enemies in the heavenly places.
In Christ, we put on our helmet, for He is our salvation (Acts 4:12).
In Christ, we put on our breastplate, for He is our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
In Christ, we put on the shoes, for He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).
In Christ, we take up our shield, for He is the anchor of our faith (Heb. 6:19).
And in Christ, we wield our sword, for He is the Word of God (John 1:1)
Because Jesus Christ ascended into the heavens and because God the Father seated Him—and therefore us!—in the heavenly places, far above the very forces we fight so hard against, we can have victory over our adversary today. Remember the words of the beloved apostle John: “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). No wonder Paul hit his knees on behalf of the beloved saints in Ephesus that they would grasp this incredible truth. Let his prayer become yours today.
I pray “that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:18-21).