The Ascension of Jesus - What was the Meaning and Significance?

The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is one of the most important events recorded in the New Testament. Usually we focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection. But the ascension is pivotal, especially in the writings of Luke.
Updated Feb 14, 2024
The Ascension of Jesus - What was the Meaning and Significance?

The Ascension of Jesus Christ

The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven is one of the most important events recorded in the New Testament. But though it occupies a vital place in Scripture, it doesn’t get a lot of attention today, even among Christians. My guess is that you probably haven’t read any books about it or heard many sermons on it. Usually we focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection. But the ascension is pivotal, especially in the writings of Luke.

Luke wrote a two-part history of the origins of Christianity. Volume one is the gospel that bears his name. Volume two is the book of Acts. And the ascension was so important for Luke, that he ended volume one with it (Luke 24:50-51), begins volume two by reporting it again (Acts 1:9-11), and then refers back to it several times in the book of Acts.

As Joel Green, a New Testament scholar who specializes in Luke’s writings, comments, “Luke presents the exaltation (i.e. resurrection & ascension) as the salvific event.”[i]

Why is that?

For one thing, the ascension accounts for why the appearances of Jesus during the forty days following his resurrection ceased. The ascension also foreshadowed the final event in salvation history: Jesus’ personal, physical, glorious return.

“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” (Acts 1:11).

But there’s more to it than that. For the ascension of Jesus was also the climatic, crowning event of his exaltation, and the necessary precursor to his continuing work through the Spirit and the church.

In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter reflects on Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in light of Psalm 16 and Psalm 110, and tells us that Jesus was exalted to “the right hand of God.” When we trace this phrase through Acts we see three things that the ascended and enthroned Christ does for his church.

Did Jesus Really Ascend to Heaven?

If the resurrection be denied, then of course there is no room for ascension. If, on the other hand, it be established that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead, then it is equally certain that He ascended into heaven. No time need be taken in argument with such as believe in the authenticity of the New Testament story, and with those who question this, argument is useless.

That there is an unconscious questioning of this fact of ascension is evident from the way in which reference is sometimes made to the Lord Jesus. It is by no means uncommon to hear persons speak of what He did or said "in the days of His Incarnation." Such a phrase, even when not used with such intention, does infer that the days of His Incarnation are over. This, however, is not so, any more than it is true that Abraham, Moses, and Elijah have ceased to be men. Jesus ascended in bodily form to heaven, being Himself as to actual victory First-born from the dead.

The stoop of God to human form was not for a period merely. That humiliation was a process in the pathway, by which God would lift into eternal union with Himself all such as should be redeemed by the victory won through suffering. Forevermore in the Person of the Man of Nazareth, God is one with men. At this moment the Man of Nazareth, the Son of God, is at the right hand of the Father. Difficulties arising concerning these clear declarations as to the ascension of the Man of Nazareth must not be allowed to create disbelief in them.

Adapted from The Crises of the Christ, Book VI, Chapter XXVII, by G. Campbell Morgan.

Significance of Jesus' Ascension

1. The ascended and enthroned Christ pours out his Spirit on the church. 

Jesus himself had told his disciples that it was good for him to go away, because only then would he send them another Helper, the Spirit of truth (John 16:7-16). And that’s exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus’ ascension. The Spirit descended on the church with power, inaugurating a new age in the history of salvation.

That’s why Peter connects Jesus’ exaltation and the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:33:

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

2. The ascended and enthroned Christ applies the blessings of salvation.

Having accomplished redemption through his suffering on the cross, the risen and exalted Christ now applies the salvation he has won, by granting the gifts of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

As Peter says in Acts 5:31:

God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

3. The ascended and enthroned Christ cares for his suffering people as they bear witness to him.

We see this in Acts 7, when Stephen becomes the first martyr of the Christian church. 

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55–56)

All of this should give us great encouragement! When feel weak in ourselves, Luke reminds us that the exalted Christ has given us his Spirit, who equips us with the power, boldness, and courage we need to accomplish our mission.

When we feel cynical about evangelism and fear no one will respond to our message, Luke reminds us that the exalted Christ is the Leader and Savior who grants repentance and forgiveness of sins. He is the King who seeks and saves the lost. That means we don’t have to manipulate and that we can be confident that some people will in fact respond.

And when we’re paralyzed by fear at the thought of the risks entailed in taking Jesus to the hard to reach nations and neighborhoods of the world, and tremble when in contemplating potential rejection or persecution, Luke reminds us that the exalted Christ cares for his suffering people and stands to welcome them home.

i. Joel B. Green, ‘Salvation to the End of the Earth’ (Acts 13:47): God as Saviour in the Acts of the Apostles” in I. Howard Marshall & David Peterson, ed., Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 95. Content provided by

Where Is Jesus Now That He Has He Ascended?

(Transcript of the video above, edited for readability)

Jesus is as God. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere. So there's a sense in which there is nowhere. Jesus is not. But Jesus is not only fully God in this omnipresent, Jesus is fully human. And so Jesus, by being fully human, has a fully human body. And that body we're told, was ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of God right now in heaven. So that is where the universal presence of Jesus is as God. It is omnipresent. The physical presence of Jesus is a fully, a full-bodied human, is seated at the right hand of God. But we're told that the spirit of Christ, that spiritually, he indwells each believer. So he is in us. We are another place that says Temples of the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 6 is the place where it says, believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ. 

And so he indwells us in a special way as believers. So again, as omnipresent, he is right here as well as everywhere else. But there is a sense in which Jesus is present in this space, that he is not right here because we are temples. We are indwelled by Jesus as believers. So his spirit is within me in a way that is unique to this air that is next to me. So in those various senses, where is Jesus right now? Well, he is seated in heaven bodily. He is omnipresent as God. He's especially present in believers. Ephesians reverses that a little bit, which is also very interesting. Bodily, I'm sitting in this seat right now, but Ephesians 2 says that we are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. S,o spiritually by faith, I'm united to Christ who sits in heaven. I'm unified with Christ in heaven right now. Though physically, I'm right here. Jesus is physically in heaven at the moment, but spiritually, he is also in me right here at this moment.

("Where Is Jesus Now?" first published on on September 5, 2012)

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Llona Pietrolongo


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