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The Ascension of Jesus - The Relationship of Time & Eternity


Ted Schroder, May 8, 2005

"To complete your seamless robe, and so to complete our faith, you ascended through the air into the heavens, before the very eyes of the apostles. In this way you showed that you are Lord of all, and are the fulfillment of all creation. Thus from that moment every human and every living creature should bow at your name. And, in the eyes of faith, we can see that all creation proclaims your greatness."

Thus prayed St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the eleventh century. He is referring to St. Luke's account of the Ascension at the end of his Gospel and in the first chapter of Acts. "He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'" (Acts 1:9-11)

The other gospel writers indicate that Jesus gave them warning of his return to heaven. He told Mary Magdalene on Easter morning outside the tomb, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20:17)

This exaltation of Jesus to the presence of the Father establishes his authority. The cloud symbolizes the shekinah glory with the people of Israel in their travels through the wilderness: "When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of God settled on Mount Sinai... Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up on the mountain." (Exodus 24:15-18); and in the Tabernacle: "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." (Exodus 40:34); and on the mount of Transfiguration: "While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying 'This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.'" (Luke 9:34,35) This physical phenomena is the visible manifestation of God's presence, glory and approval.

Jesus told the disciples in the Upper Room that he was going to his Father's house, to prepare a place for them. (John 14:2) This means that human nature, in the form of the body of Jesus, is carried into heaven. This gives us a clue as to what is in store for us. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary [the presence of God in the Holy of Holies] behind the curtain [of death], where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." (Hebrews 6:19,20)

Jesus, who came down from heaven, (John 3:13) accompanied by angels at his birth, returned to heaven with the same heavenly witnesses, as the disciples witnessed, and Luke records for us. He who entered into time from eternity (through his birth at Bethlehem), and was previously eternally present with the Father, departed from time in this fashion. In his place he sent the Spirit.

This raises the issue of the relationship of Time to Eternity. The Ascension does not mean that Jesus has exited the universe, or that heaven has no connection with earth. Since God is outside Time, all Time exists as Present to God so that he sees us (and all creation), at every moment of our lives as being Present to him.

C.S. Lewis gives us a picture of Time as a straight line on a page which is God. Time is the line, God is the whole page on which the line is drawn. History occurs in a linear fashion. One thing happens after another. We cannot experience the present until we leave the past. God in eternity is the context in which all Time takes place.

This analogy is helpful in dealing with the seeming paradox that Jesus can be God in eternity and man in Time at the same moment. We think that God had to suspend his divinity in order to become man, that he saw his time on earth as future before it happened, and then past when it occurred. But God is beyond space and time. He has no history. There can be no past and future with him. He sees everything as present.

That is why he knows each one of us from before the creation of the world, and to our eternal destiny. Such knowledge does not determine our decisions. He can see ahead and we cannot. Because God is outside Time, he sees everything as present, so that he sees what we call tomorrow in the same way as he sees today. Everything is 'Now' for him. He sees us at each stage in our lives as present to him. He knows what we do in the future because he is already there. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp.143-145)

This helps us to understand the problem raised by some interpretations of Luke 23:43. When Jesus said to the thief on the cross that "today you will be with me in paradise," he was expressing the reality, that death ushers us into eternity. When we leave time at our death, we enter into eternity. There is no conflict between the truth that the resurrection and judgment has to wait until the end of time, and the reality that there is no waiting in eternity. Both occur at the end of history, but our history ends at our death. So we do not have to wait for resurrection, for we are outside time with God.

Jesus, when he was in Time, had a history. By leaving Time and entering again into eternity he is always Present to us. He has all eternity to listen to our prayers in Time. By removing his physical presence he made himself available to the whole world instantaneously.

Ruth Etchells expressed this truth in her prayer for Ascension Day.

"My Lord Jesus Christ, I do not really begin to understand the mystery of your Ascension, or how to picture it. Only I know that there had to be a time when your physical presence must be withdrawn, for the wider world to encounter your love. And I know that my tender and suffering Lord, and even my victoriously risen and observable Lord, must become the aweful and glorious Lord, King beyond time and space, ruling over all the worlds that are and are to be. And I understand that at your Ascension you went through the door between time and eternity.

"Only, Lord, I should be full of a sense of loss, if it were not for being with your disciples as they return to Jerusalem, not sad, but full of a great joy, bursting into hymns praising God. So Lord, it seems they do not so much see you leaving them, as taking up your rule over all the unacknowledged bits of their lives, including their wonderings about eternity. They show such a profound sense of wondering certainty, Lord, an absoluteness of commitment, devotion and worship.

"So, Lord, like them I return to the city. Fill me too with awe and praise as you take up your kingly rule: renew within me the wonder of Ascension Day discipleship. Amen."


Recovering the Mysteries of Faith
Author: Ted Schroder

Reviewed by David W. Virtue

This new book by the master devotional writer Ted Schroder is hot off the press and is a most welcome addition to my library.

The Foreword by George H. Gallup, Jr should alert you as to its content. He writes: "This book about the treasures of knowing Jesus Christ in one's life, is a treasure in itself. Few works I have encountered address so powerfully yet gracefully the spiritual condition of the day."

Chapter titles include, Doubting Thoimas; Turning Doubt to Good; Questioning Faith; the Gift of Faith and many other chapters, written clearly and with the building up of your most holy faith in mind.

If you are in need of a real spiritual pick-me-up this book will do it to you.

The book is dedicated to the distinguished British preacher and author John R. W. Stott. You can purchase copies by going to: www.ameliapublishing.com

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