So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21)
In our era with men on the moon, space stations, and daily seeing the impossible become possible either real or through special effects, it is not too much of a stretch to envision the Son of God rising up from the earth and disappearing into the clouds. However, imagine the astonishment in those who watched it happen 2000 years ago!
The followers of Jesus Christ needed to see this. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). He had already told them He would go and that He would come back. Had He walked off into the sunset, they would be looking for Him in the next town or to reappear over the hill. But that was not the way of His departure...
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19) While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:51)
He had at least four reasons for this very visible departure from this world. One of them was to signify that what He said on the Cross was true: “It is finished!”
His work on earth was done and He was not headed off into the hills to pray. Instead, He was going to that better place, sitting to signify His authority, but definitely still at work.
This is the second reason He left the earth. He was finished here, but then began a wider ministry, that of eternal Intercession: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession...” (Hebrews 4:14). He lives forever, praying for His people and being involved in our lives through the Holy Spirit.
The third reason is related to the second. The high priests of old entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of lambs to atone for the sins of the people, repeating this ritual as required. But Jesus ascended so He could enter the eternal temple and presence of God with His own blood, atoning for the sins of His people once for all, and securing our eternal redemption.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23–28)
Because Jesus ascended, the work of redemption is finished. Forgiveness is available to all who wait eagerly for His return. He is praying for us all the time!
A fourth reason for this visible ascension is to offer a visible display of His victory. In those days, when a king conquered his enemies, he led a parade with the captives following. The parade entered the city, and the king gave the spoils of war to his people, who then joined him in the parade.
Jesus did the same. He “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15), and then, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8)
The defeated enemy is Satan and his cohorts. The people of the King are those now are called the church. His gifts to us are the spoils of war, and there is no room here to list them here. I can only say that because Jesus ascended, the church is with Him in that incredible victory parade.