Why Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension?
Christians around the world and throughout church history have affirmed Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (especially on Easter Sunday). Concerning Jesus’ resurrection, His appearances to His followers were real, taking place in various locales, under a variety of circumstances, and to diverse numbers of people (from one to more than five hundred at a time; 1 Cor. 15:3–7).
According to Acts 1:1–12, following Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared repeatedly to His disciples over a period of 40 days. During this time, He thoroughly convinced them that He had indeed risen from the dead. Then, after Jesus gave them final instructions, they watched as He ascended into heaven. While the disciples stood gazing at the sky, two angels appeared to assure them that Jesus would one day return just as He had departed.
The historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension notwithstanding, why was it necessary for these two pivotal events to occur? Answering this question necessitates taking into account the first-century A.D. Jewish context in which these episodes transpired.
For example, in that era, Jesus’ followers would not regard His resurrection as being merely a temporal episode. More importantly, they would consider Jesus’ rising from the dead as a harbinger of the end-times Day of Judgment.
Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection was not simply the restoration of Him to physical life, but even more so, the beginning of the eschatological restoration of creation, along with the defeat of sin, Satan, and death. Indeed, at the consummation of the age, God would raise the dead, punish the wicked, and reward the righteous.
The implication is that Jesus’ resurrection had far-reaching consequences. With reference to Jesus’ identity, His rising from the dead was His greatest confirming sign, for it was a divine validation of His messiahship (see John 2:18–21). The resurrection also officially declared Jesus to be the eternal Son of God (see Rom. 1:4). Furthermore, Jesus’ rising from the dead signified that He now had a glorified body.
Concerning Jesus’ followers, His rising from the dead made their salvation a reality (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Also, His resurrection guaranteed that His followers would one day be resurrected (vv. 20–23). Furthermore, His rising from the dead ensured that the resurrection bodies of His followers would have the same life-principle and qualities as His (vv. 42–44).
In terms of Jesus’ enemies, His resurrection broke Satan’s power over death (see Heb. 2:14). Jesus’ rising from the dead also ensured that He, as the divine Warrior, would one day resurrect and judge and His enemies (Acts 17:31).
Alongside Jesus’ resurrection is His ascension to heaven. This event marked the end of His first mission to earth and made possible His exaltation and enthronement at the Father’s right hand (Matt 26:64; Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Phil 2:9; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 12:2). The ascension also released Jesus from physical localization on earth for His universal work of building His church through His earthbound people (Matt 16:18; 28:20; Mark 16:20; Eph 4:7–13).
Jesus’ ascension allows Him to prepare a special place for His followers in heaven (John 14:1–3). The ascension of Jesus also permits Him to act as their intercessor in the presence of the Father (Rom 8:34; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 7:25; 1 John 2:1).
In addition, Jesus’ ascension allows the Spirit to do His special work relating to the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church (John 14:16, 17, 20; Acts 1:5, 8; Gal 3:27, 28; 1 Cor 6:15, 19, 20). The Third Person of the Trinity empowers believers to testify to the Son by providing them with spiritual discernment, courage, and love. The Spirit also changes their character and life so that they are more Christlike in what they say and do.
On the one hand, if Jesus’ followers attempt to live their Christian life in their own limited strength, they can expect failure, disappointment, and frustration. On the other hand, if they depend on the power of the Spirit, the risen and ascended Messiah strengthens them to be like Him and to tell others about Him. In turn, the triune God is eternally glorified and receives everlasting praise.