Why Did He Leave? 10 Ideas On Teaching About Jesus’ Ascension

Jesus' Ascension - What happens next

No doubt the death of Jesus puts disciples into crisis mode. They don’t understand what Jesus plainly tells them, “I’ll suffer and die and raise from the dead three days later.” They don’t even understand when the tomb is empty and the women come back and exclaim the news. Perhaps they first believe the rumor that circulates quickly: someone has stolen away Jesus’ body. Perhaps that’s why they lock the upper room door behind them and sit together, frightened. Not for long. The truth of the resurrection comes flooding in with multiple encounters with Jesus. He shows them his crucifixion scars and eats dinner just like before… but it isn’t like before. Something new is beginning to transpire.

10 Ideas On Teaching About Jesus’ Ascension

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and his disciples. Paul says he appears to five hundred at one time in the lead up to his ascension (I Corinthians 15:4-6). We know that after his resurrection, Jesus stayed with the disciples for, “a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). But why did he leave? What’s the point of coming and staying for about 33 years, dying, rising again… and then heading out, leaving us with a fallen world to contend with? Why not redeem it right then and there? Here are 10 honest, biblical ways of instructing our congregations.

The basis of faith

Imagine it. If we could visit the 2,000-year-old sage named Jesus and see his scars, what would be the basis of faith? It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes we might wish him still here. The disciples certainly did after he took off in a cloud. Hebrews says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (11:1). Because our faith is based in Jesus whom we haven’t seen yet, we know what it will mean when our hope is fully realized in heaven and faith can be tossed aside.

Pleasing God

We want to please God, right? Well, faith is part of it. Hebrews says, embedded in a heavy-hitting list of Old Testament leaders, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6). On the other side of the resurrection, our faith is similar, since we “wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Blessed for having faith

Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). In many ways Jesus ascends to give us the possibility to believe and to be grafted as his followers. We are part of the whole story. Without the church age, as some call it, the going and making disciples of every nation wouldn’t happen. It’s our calling, as it was since he left, to go and be a city on a hill.

We are grafted in

Paul says, “I have become [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27). The proposition when Jesus departs is that the work begins. With the payment for sin and the victory over death complete, the Gospel is set in motion to be larger and wider and go further and higher than the small band of witnesses will imagine. Thank God for being grafted in!

Even greater things!

John 14:12 says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Don’t we want to do greater things? Jesus tells his disciples this around Passover, just after he washes their feet. It’s his reaction to Philip’s request to, “…show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus softly rebukes him, saying, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” He can’t understand the lack of belief and applauds all who he knows will come after the disciples who believe without seeing. That’s us! And we are told we’re set up to do greater things than even Jesus.

The church, the story

Remember how God identifies himself in Old Testament: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). It’s similar with the church. We are his bride whom he will name and call out. Paul says in Ephesians 3:10-11, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our story is the work of the church who keeps and lives the word and witness of Jesus until he comes again.

Every knee, every tongue

We know this sight of victorious worship: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). It’s the end of all days. Jesus ascends to let us run with the kingdom of God in our hands and hearts–to invite others to receive the good news and to work alongside Romans 1 so that everyone is without excuse. 

Preparation

John 14: 1-4 says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Singer, songwriter Keith Green says, “I can’t wait to get to heaven, where you wipe away all our tears. In six days you created everything but you’ve been working on heaven two thousand years.” It’s a good way to look at things this side of heaven, even knowing full well that time doesn’t exist in eternity. It helps us to fathom the preparation that Jesus makes for all who believe. Perhaps as we allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through our churches, Jesus is building one house after another as people come to faith. 

I will come again

Jesus must leave to come again. It’s a practical reality, but a necessary one to state. Why? It’s more about us than him. Jesus says that we are to take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). Paul says time and again that we will suffer as followers of Jesus. Romans 5:2-5 says, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Jesus must leave to come back again because it allows us to suffer and produce in him a bride that follows after the church in Philadelphia who, “have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelations 3:10). 

Prophesy will be fulfilled

Just like the prophecies foretelling the coming of Messiah to Bethlehem, we have prophecies giving reference to the second coming. Daniel projects us to the end of days with scrolls waiting to be read. And the Revelation of John provides scene upon scene that finishes the story of how God will finally make all things new. Jesus says, “… all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24: 30-31).  


Zach Kincaid - Speaking in Tongues headshot imageZach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.

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