It was the last act of Jesus Christ on earth ... and one of the most important. And yet, in the thinking of too many Christians, its importance is overlooked. It reveals something about Jesus that we often take for granted ... but we shouldn't.
When you talk about the Incarnation of Christ, you're talking about Bethlehem, and the Baby in the manger. That's God becoming a human being, in the most vulnerable way possible.
When you talk about the love of Jesus Christ, you're talking about Calvary, where He chose to take your punishment and mine on His own innocent shoulders, so that we might be forgiven for our sins. That's the greatest example of love in human history.
When you talk about the power of Jesus Christ, you're talking about the Resurrection, where He broke the bonds of death as only God could do: and the Resurrection is the center of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15: 14, 15).
But when you talk about the holiness of Jesus Christ, His sheer perfection and absolute sinlessness, you're talking about the Ascension.
He'd risen from the dead forty days before, and He'd been walking and talking with the disciples again, teaching them, and reminding them of His great power. And then .... When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts1:6-11)
Of course the disciples were astonished; that's why the angels spoke to them. Apparently they'd forgotten that Jesus had hinted, before His death, that this would happen: When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before (John 6:61-62)? And again, after He rose from the dead, He reminded Mary Magdalene: Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God (John 20:17).
The Ascension is also recorded in Mark 16:19, and Luke 24:51: And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. (Of course, many modern translators have removed the second half of this verse, or questioned it in a footnote, claiming that it's not in "the original Greek text," although they've never seen the original text in their lives. The 1977 version of the New American Standard "Bible" omitted "and carried up into heaven;" the outcry from Bible believers caused them to re-insert the words in subsequent editions, starting in 1995. A similar swindle is made when the modern versions either dissect or completely rewrite John 3:13, where Jesus speaks of the Ascension to Nicodemus. But the attacks on Jesus in the "new versions" is a subject for another time. The King James is the Bible.) This was not a "secret" event; it was witnessed by many people. It needed to be: it proved something.
Jesus was not the only person in scripture to go to Heaven directly. Enoch was "translated" into Heaven when "God took him" in Genesis 5:24. Elijah was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Moses was taken to Heaven in bodily form after his death (Deuteronomy 34; Jude 1:9). But Jesus was the only One Who ascended under His own power. That's what "ascending" means in the Bible, and the word doesn't apply to these men in the Old Testament. How do we know? John 3:13 again: Jesus said, no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. The Ascension of Jesus was utterly unique.
Someone says, "Yes, it was unique; but what does it prove? What's the significance?" And that's a legitimate question.
Well, imagine a different scenario: Jesus is on earth, performing miracles, doing things no man has ever done, for three years. He's crucified, and then rises from the dead. His disciples witness all these things, and believe them. But then, He prepares to ascend, and goes up in the air ... and Heaven refuses to receive Him. He can't get in.
What would that have proved? That Jesus wasn't perfectly holy, and was unacceptable to the Father. The disciples would have been confused, and their faith in Him would have been shattered - - - and should have been. If Heaven had refused to receive Jesus, He would have been shown to be just a magician, a false prophet, one of the many frauds in man's tormented and confused history.
Because God the Father is perfectly holy, and will not tolerate the presence of sin in Heaven. That's why, when a saved person's soul goes to Heaven, his or her sinful flesh must stay behind. God's holiness is so total and unabridged that the angels sing about it day and night (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8). Verses describing God's absolute holiness are too numerous to be listed here. This is the aspect of God's character that we understand least. We can believe that He's a God of judgment, and that He will judge the earth, and correct all the wrongs man has committed. Even if it frightens us (and the fear of God is a good and healthy thing), we can comprehend it, although few preachers will preach about it. But who can understand God's purity and holiness, His infinite sinlessness, His inability to even tolerate the presence of sin? His holiness is a flame of fire. And yet Jesus Christ, under His own power, was able to ascend up to Heaven, and be received bodily ... because He is God, and is just as holy as the Father.
Jesus dwelt among sinners while He was here on earth, and He saw, and wept over, sin and the results of sin. But it didn't contaminate Him. He was and is as pure and holy as God the Father ... and it was proved, for all time, when He ascended into Heaven.
That's the holiness of Jesus Christ. That's how good and pure and sinless Jesus Christ was, and is.
So think about it ...
Jesus, so sinless and pure that He could walk into Heaven itself, was tortured to death as a punishment. A punishment for my sins ... my nasty little sins, and my big dramatic sins. And yours. And, because our sins were punished that day, we don't need to receive the punishment and judgment we deserve. We can escape it by simply receiving Jesus Christ, according to John 1:12, and being born again (John 3:3-5). Jesus paid our debt ... took our judgment ... even though He was the only truly innocent Man in human history.
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!