Act 2: His Exaltation
As the curtain comes up on Act 2: His Exaltation, the spotlight is shining on a rock wall in a quiet garden. This scene is unique as it doesn’t begin with Christ’s presence but with his absence. We are not sure whether the audience knows what is about to happen or if they are as surprised as people in the story. Certainly no one on stage has a clue.
Scene 1: The Resurrection
As the scene opens, three brave but cautious women approach the grave where Jesus was buried a few days earlier. In their enthusiasm to finish treating the body of their crucified friend, they had not considered two huge obstacles: a Roman guard and a massive stone. But when they arrive they are overjoyed to see that both are removed.
When the women enter the tomb, however, their joy turns to surprise, confusion, amazement and fear. Returning to town they report the empty tomb and the angel’s word of the risen Jesus to the apostles. Surprisingly the women are not met joy and belief but with skepticism and adamant denial. The resurrection of Christ was not last on the disciples’ list of possible outcomes, it wasn’t even on the page. Later when Mary Magdalene told them that she had actually talked to the risen Christ, Mark says the disciples refused to believe it.
Over the next month, not only does the news spread, but the risen Jesus appears to around 500 of his followers in person. Some believe right away, others need more convincing. The apostle Thomas was one of those hard to convince. His sight preceded his faith. From now on, faith would precede sight.
Our angelic audience had to be astonished when the resurrected Son of God appeared still in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. They had never seen anything like it. He looked like Jesus. He took up space, talked, and ate, but he also moved with ease in and out of the natural physical dimension. Could it be that the risen Jesus, the Christ, is now the first born of a whole new kind of family, the first of many?
One thing is certain. The Son of Man has conclusively demonstrated that he is the Son of God. Surely no one could doubt it now. Paul, reflecting on the magnitude of this scene writes, “His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, (is) Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-4).
The angelic audience sits in wonder as the Son of God is revealed as victorious over the great enemy of death. The final sacrifice for sin is now complete. No more annual temple offerings. It has been done once for all and forever. His power is demonstrated, his deity affirmed, his kingdom is established. Victory is complete, death defeated, continuity guaranteed and life is now eternal.
The resurrected Christ becomes a watershed moment in history. To most it is foolishness, but to a few it is the hope of the future. This moment becomes a core part of the good news announced to a pagan Roman world. When the philosophers heard Paul speak on Mars Hill, it was the resurrection that drew a line in the sand; some thought it ridiculous, others were curious, and a few believed. Nothing has changed in 2000 years!
Scene 2: The Ascension
In this scene the curtain is closed but on the front of the stage the disciples are gathered around the risen Christ in serious conversation. As they are discussing what the next scene will hold, Christ removes their ethnocentric lens by informing them that they are to be his witnesses starting from Jerusalem and extending to the entire world. While the disciples reflect on the enormity of the mission, Jesus is “lifted up” and disappears from their sight.
The disciples leave the stage rejoicing while the curtain opens onto another dimension called heaven. What is now center stage is foreign to humanity, but very familiar to our angelic audience who celebrate as they observe heaven receiving back the Son of God.
Only a few men have been given a glimpse into this dimension. Stephan when he was being stoned, Paul when he had his vision, and the apostle John in the book of Revelation.
But what surprises our angelic audience is not that the Son of God has returned to heaven, but that he has returned still identified with humanity. He remains the God/Man in his resurrected form. The Son of God has chosen to remain identified with man even to the point of retaining the scars of his crucifixion. Humanity has now entered heaven for the very first time.
The angels remember Jesus saying, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” and they realize that the giving is more than just for a brief moment in history, more than the separation on the cross…he was given forever. From the incarnation to eternity the Son of God would be wrapped in humanity. Jesus has chosen not to return to his pre incarnation state of glory, but to remain identified with those who will become his family.
The once for all sacrifice is carried into the Holy of Holies by Christ, the final High Priest, and presented to the Father. The sacrifice is complete, finished. The ascended Christ becomes the representative and intercessor for his expanding family of faith in heaven. Now each one can come boldly …with confidence …at any time …in his name.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. …Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
In the final moments of this scene one more momentous event takes place. The Spirit of Christ is released to be the Son’s representative on earth living in the hearts of his new family. It fulfills Jesus’ promise made in the upper room not too many weeks earlier. The Spirit is now sent to bring power into the lives of men and women of faith: to testify, remind, empower, and guarantee their place with him forever. After the ascension, following Christ is no longer a matter of personal determination but an abiding cooperation with the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
Luke ends his gospel and begins his book of Acts with the ascension, telling us that
- At the cross the disciples were scared, confused and apprehensive
- At the resurrection they were surprised, amazed and excited
- But at the ascension they were filled with joy
In this scene God’s manifold wisdom is revealed as humanity enters heaven announcing:
- The incarnation has no expiration date,
- His sacrifice is accepted,
- Reconciliation is possible,
- The Holy Spirit is personal,
- Intercession is direct, and
- Christ is an elder brother.
Once again the heavenly audience sits in silence as they ponder the significance of all that has happened. Can anyone ever again doubt His love for humanity or question his delight in the expanding family born through faith? And as they ponder, they wonder what is still to come. Read His Story (2)