The Effects of Christ’s Ascension: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 18

49. What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven?
First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven.1 Second, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.2 Third, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest,3 by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.4
[1] 1 Jn. 2:1; Rom. 8:34. [2] Jn. 14:2; 20:17; Eph. 2:6. [3] Jn. 14:16; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor. 5:5. [4] Col. 3:1; *Jn. 14:3; *Heb. 9:24.

50. Why is it added: “And sits at the right hand of God”?
Because Christ ascended into heaven for this end, that He might there appear as the Head of His Church,1 by whom the Father governs all things.2
[1] Eph. 1:20–23; Col. 1:18. [2] Jn. 5:22; *1 Pet. 3:22; *Ps. 110:1.

The Effects of Christ’s Ascension
Every aspect of the work of Christ is important. Each of Christ’s great acts has a vital role to play in our salvation. These events are not told to us for idle curiosity, and all of the Gospels record the ascension of Christ. It may be something we think about less than we should, less than the nativity or certainly the death of Christ, but it is nonetheless vital. If we do not think about it much, that identifies a deficiency in our understanding of our salvation. The Catechism can help us here.

The first thing to realize is that Jesus’ ascension has a particular purpose. He didn’t just go to heaven to have a place to wait out the church age until it was time to come back. He told His disciples that they were actually better off with Him leaving (John 16:7) because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit is tremendously important for us, because the Spirit of God is the “earnest” of our salvation, the down payment of all the benefits we will receive in eternity (2 Cor. 5:5). The Spirit of God works in the lives of believers post-Pentecost in a new and greater way than was ever the case before, showing the huge importance of the ascension of Christ and how much closer we are to the consummation of our salvation. The Old Testament saints certainly had the influence of the Holy Spirit in their lives; nobody can know anything true about God without the Spirit’s aid. But the level of understanding and the power of the believer to turn away from sin is much higher after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit than before.

Revelation 12 shows us a battle in heaven that is kicked off by the ascension of Christ. The result of that battle is that Satan loses much of his influence and power. He is thrown out of heaven, can no longer accuse the brethren and is limited to the earth. He still causes much death and destruction, but his power over the earth is greatly limited. This is also the “binding” of Satan spoken of in Revelation 20. Why is the knowledge of the true God so much greater and so much more widespread in the earth today than it was before Christ’s coming? It is because of the ascension and the resulting change in the way God works in creation, and the limit that was put on Satan’s influence.

The great focus of Christ’s ascension is in the church. When He ascended, He told His Apostles that all authority was given to Him, and that they were therefore to go out into all the nations of the world, build the church and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). He promised to be with them throughout their work. The work Christ commissioned is ongoing; more of God’s elect are joined to the church every day. When the Great Commission is completed, the end will come. Therefore, the whole purpose of this present age is the building of the church. Everything that happens serves that end. Nothing can stop it, for no power can challenge Jesus, who has been given all authority and power. Therefore we sing,

For this is His word, His saints shall not fail.
But over the earth, their power shall prevail.
All kingdoms and nations shall yield to their sway.
To God be the glory and praise Him for aye.

This is an adaptation of Psalm 149. It does not speak of the physical power of Christian people. It’s not through armies or politics or money that we will exercise this power, but through the preaching of the gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, commissioned by Christ to exercise His rule throughout the world, through the church of Jesus Christ.

His ascension therefore helps us understand everything happening in the world. It is so easy to get discouraged by the headlines and the affairs of this life; I suspect this is intentional on Satan’s part, to discourage us into thinking that Christ is not really in control. But consider the last two thousand years of history. There have always been these evil things happening. Nations have been evil and corrupt. The church has often been filled with hypocrites and liars. Man’s inhumanity to man has been a constant feature. And yet the church has spread and the gospel goes forth. However it may look at any given moment, Jesus is ascended, and no power on earth can challenge His rule. He will finish the salvation that He began until all of His lost sheep are brought home to Him.