When thinking about the Ascension of Jesus, I often think of how the apostles and disciples thought about Jesus’s rise into heaven. In that I think not about the description of the event, but of about where those who walked with Jesus placed Jesus within the framework of their own religious history.For the jewish followers, they had the option of viewing Jesus as another Moses; the one that led those people out of slavery into a promised land. Jesus promised a new kingdom,though not necessarily a new land.
There also were the Kings, Emperors, and the like. They ruled earthly kingdoms, yet again Jesus preached his kingdom was not of this world.
There were the Priests who followed the law of Moses and offered sacrifice on behalf of the people. Jesus was not a priest of this order.He was both the sacrifice and the one who offered it.His sacrifice he offered once for the redemption of all.
The prophets of the old testament spoke of events that were current or about to happen and the early disciples wrestled with the notion of Christ as prophet, yet Jesus himself said he was not another prophet. That tradition for those early Christians ended with John the Baptist.
Early Christians thought Jesus as an angel, a messenger of God. Jesus did deliver God’s message to his people, yet even with angels there is a hierarchy. Where were they to place Jesus in that Hierarchy of angels? To them Jesus rose above the angels to sit at the right hand of God. He ascended not to an angel of God but to the only Son of God as described in the Nicene Creed :
For those of the first century, they had to describe Jesus ascent in the terms of their world, and place Jesus within the Hierarchy that they knew and in that Hierarchy Jesus is in the heaven of God as ruler over that Kingdom of God the he preached. The interesting thing about the Ascension of Jesus is that it is described as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Jesus ascension though began at the conception when he became man.It is one continious movement. His ministry was to return to the Father and in doing so lead us to that same Kingdom of God. While the ascension marks when Christ as man is lifted from earth, it marks the beginning of the disciples journey toward that Kingdom. It marks the beginning of the Church at pentecost when that Holy Spirit descends on man. The ascension can be viewed as a place where the apostles placed Christ in their lives, it also can be viewed as a point in Christ’s eternal life that is the completion of the mission that began when he was born of the virgin Mary and became man. It points to that direction his ministry had for us; to lead us back to Gods Kingdom. It points towards our reward, and allows that Spirit to descend so that the body of Christ as his Church might be brought to life here on earth.