Jesus lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and rose from the dead to save us. But we cannot fully understand the person and work of Christ in relation to our redemption unless we also consider our Lord’s ascension. As Peter said at Pentecost, Jesus was “exalted at the right hand of God” after His resurrection (Acts 2:14–36).
Christ’s ascension benefits us in many ways. First, it marks His formal assumption of His kingly office. Because the Son humbled Himself, took on our flesh, and fulfilled His mission, the Father highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:5–11). Having eternally enjoyed an authority equal to the Father’s with respect to His deity, Christ ascended to heaven to execute authority over all in His humanity as well. The God-man now reigns over all, putting all His and our enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25).
Paul in today’s passage describes a second way that Christ’s ascension furthers the good of His people. The Apostle tells us that Jesus ascended above all the heavens “that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:9–10). John Calvin comments on this filling, explaining that “while [Jesus] is removed from us in bodily presence, he fills all things by the power of his Spirit.” According to His human nature, Christ is in heaven, for that is where His human body and soul are present. But through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present with His people here on earth.
Calvin continues: “Did [Christ] not fill them before? In his divine nature, I own, he did; but the power of his Spirit was not so exerted, nor his presence so manifested, as after he had entered into the possession of his kingdom.” It is better for us that Jesus is not presently among us in the flesh. Jesus Himself said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). For the Holy Spirit (the Helper) to fully exercise His ministry among God’s people, Jesus had to ascend to heaven. His ascension and His sending the Spirit mean we are in the last days before the renewal of creation (Joel 2:28–32; Acts 2). Moreover, by His Spirit, we can now fellowship with the whole Christ, in His deity and in His humanity, for by the Spirit Christ bridges the distance between us and His physical body in heaven. Christ is omnipresent according to His divine nature, so He has always been at hand everywhere. But until Jesus ascended to heaven and sent His Spirit, only the people who came into direct contact with Him as He ministered in Galilee and in Judea encountered Him in His humanity. Since His ascension, we can commune with Christ in His humanity no matter where we live.