Why did Jesus Christ rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
If the cross is the central symbol of Christianity, then the resurrection is the central proclamation of the church. Paul says that if Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins, our preaching is useless, and our hope is in vain. If you examine the sermons of the early church found in the book of Acts, they all focus on the power of the resurrection as the basis upon which the gospel can be rightly proclaimed to the world. There are three main reasons for this.
First, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of God the Father that Jesus the Son was, indeed, victorious over sin, death, and hell. In Jesus Christ, the Fall has been overturned and a new and living Way has been opened up whereby all people are called to come and receive his forgiveness and be restored into a right relationship with God.
Second, the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our own future bodily resurrections at the end of time. Despite all the popular songs and language to the contrary, Christianity does not believe that God is merely “saving souls.” God has redeemed the entire person—body, soul, and spirit! Jesus’ resurrection is seen by the early Christians as the firstfruits of the general resurrection of us all at the end of time. So, how do we know that God will raise us from the dead on the last day? Because it has already happened once to Jesus, so we know that the same God that raised Jesus from the dead is able to raise our mortal bodies.
Finally, the resurrection of Christ is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world. Without the resurrection, Christianity begins to look a lot more like Islam or Judaism. The resurrection reminds us that Christianity is not merely about a new ethical teaching or some lofty ideas about how to live a more fulfilled life. Christianity is rooted in a specific historical act. God acted in history by sending Jesus into the world and then by raising him from the dead. Buddha is in the grave. Muhammad is in the grave. Confucius is in the grave. Jesus is the Risen and Living Lord!
The ascension of Christ is the completion of the earthly mission of Jesus. In the incarnation Jesus was sent to earth, he lived, died on the cross, and then he was raised to life on the third day. The ascension is the exaltation of Jesus back to the right hand of the Father in heaven.
When we think of Jesus today, we should think of him as reigning over his people. This does not mean simply that he is seated on a distant throne above the universe. Rather, it means that by his Spirit he is present and ruling wherever the church gathers in his name. Jesus is on the throne, but that throne is now present wherever his people are gathered and whenever the sacraments are given. He is no longer walking by the Sea of Galilee. He is no longer on the cross. He is waiting for all all those who oppose his righteous rule to recognize his Lordship. He is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father, and he is reigning over us as the Lord of glory.
1 Corinthians 15:12–20