“He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). If you had been a follower of Christ in first-century Ephesus, you would have probably recited or sung those words. Those six phrases were recorded poetically by Paul as either a confession often repeated by Christians or as part of a hymn of praise sung about Jesus. There is not enough space in this brief article to mine the gold found in each of those phrases. So we will focus just on the final four words: “taken up in glory.”
Ascension Day was last month on May 21, 2009. It traditionally falls forty days after Easter, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. On Ascension Day we do not commemorate Jesus’ departure from earth. Rather, we celebrate His ascension to heaven — His return to glory — but most of us do not have that date marked. We all know the dates for Christmas and Easter. Why don’t we revel in His ascension as we do in His incarnation and resurrection? Perhaps it is because the incarnation and resurrection happened here on earth. The ascension culminated beyond our sight and hearing. We did not see it, but there was great celebration in heaven when the Son returned home. Some of our older readers remember the homecoming of soldiers after World War II. You remember the parades, the headlines, the parties. Surely those celebrations were tame compared to the celebration when Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, came home.
He was home and His mission was completed. He was home and His work was finished. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as seated at the right hand of the Father: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Heaven sang and rejoiced because the Lord returned victorious. The ordeal of the cross was over. Redemption had been accomplished; therefore, He was seated.
Every time we think we have not done enough — every time we are tempted to think that there is something left for us to do to win our salvation — we need to remember, Jesus is seated.
The ascended Jesus is not only seated, He is seated on a throne:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11).
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is represented with many different symbols: the Lamb, the warrior King, the Lion of Judah. No matter the symbol or title, where do you find Him — where is He located? He is always on the throne, reigning and ruling. The book of Revelation was written to a persecuted and suffering church to remind her that Jesus was, right then, King of kings and Lord of lords. One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is: “Jesus reigns.”
There are many Christians who believe it is their duty to fight to make the reign of Christ happen. We might as well be fighting so that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Jesus is reigning. We do live in this world praying that our neighbors will acknowledge Christ’s reign in all of life. When Jesus returns He will not be coming to take the throne. His coming will prove His reign once and for all — that He is indeed the King.
Finally, when Jesus ascended, there was a glorious reception: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). In ancient cultures, the victorious general returned home from battles to great parades with the spoils of victory in his train. The triumphant Roman general entered Rome in a great chariot, wearing his toga picta lined with silver and gold. Behind him trailed the conquered kings, generals, and their armies. Paul was using the Roman parade of triumph as a metaphor picturing the glorification of Christ in heaven. He went home to glory and in His train were the conquered: sin and death. In His train was a fallen world redeemed.
In His incarnation, the Son descended into gross humiliation. He left heaven for a hovel on earth. He came as a baby to a feed trough and was forced to flee to Egypt from a petty, paranoid king. He endured a farce of a trial and was crucified on a Roman cross (too ignominious for Roman citizens) while men mocked Him and spat on Him. Such a battle had never been fought previously nor has been since. So when the King returned home He received a name that was above every name, and all of heaven rang with praise. The Lion of Judah ascended and took the scroll, and heaven cried, “Worthy are you to take the scroll.” You can spend some time in Revelation 5 if you want to read about the triumphant homecoming in more detail. However, Paul only needed four words: “taken up in glory.”