Arthur Middleton on the Ascension
The full glory of the Risen Lord is complete when he was received up into heaven and there sat down at the right hand of God. Our two great creeds confess the Ascension and Session in almost identical words: ‘He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of [God] the Father [Almighty].’ Their witness goes further back: the Apostles’ Creed rests on the Roman baptismal creed of the second century and the Nicene Creed reflects the early creed of the Church of Jerusalem. This belief was universal in the early Church in both East and West.
St Irenaeus wrote, ‘The Church, though scattered throughout the whole world to the ends of the earth, has received from the Apostles and their disciples her faith… in one Christ Jesus …and his assumption in the flesh into the heavens.’ Tertullian taught that ‘The rule of faith teaches us to believe that… Jesus Christ… was carried up into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father.’ The great majority of ancient creed forms expressly acknowledge both Ascension and Session.
The Apostolic Age
The same belief is there in the writings of the Apostolic age. The Synoptic Gospels are silent, apart from St. Mark’s appendix, because (as Dr Hort explained) the Ascension did not lie within the proper scope of the gospels. Its true place was at the head of the Acts of the Apostles as the preparation for the Day of Pentecost and the beginning of the history of the Church. There the author refers to his ‘former treatise’, which recorded the teaching of the Lord ‘until the day in which he was received up’.
Under the teaching of the Holy Spirit the event assumed a further significance. Jesus had been by the right hand of God exalted. The psalm (110) had been fulfilled which said, ‘Sit thou on my right hand.’ The heavens must receive him until the restoration of all things, and Stephen saw him standing on the right hand of God. The epistles assume the Ascension as they assume the Resurrection. The Ascension and the Session were not overlooked by any of the great writers of the second half of the New Testament
St Peter (1 Pet. 3.22) tells us that Jesus Christ is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, and St Paul (Rom. 8.34) tells us that Christ Jesus died, and was raised from the dead, and is at the right hand of God. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 4.14; 7.1), which is concerned with the heavenly life of the Lord, rests on the historical fact of the Ascension, which it enunciates many times. The life and work of the Ascended Christ are its chief themes. We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God. The Book of Revelation, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, owes its motif to the Ascension and the Session, which are presupposed in every page of the book.
Waiting and watching
The psalmist’s description (Psalm 110) of the ascended Christ as seated in heaven has dominated Christian thought and moulded the creed of Christendom, and it agrees with the facts of history. As the interval between the Ascension and the return of Christ lengthens century after century, the Church takes heart when she remembers the seated figure of the expectant Christ. He waits seated on the throne; we wait with him, as our Mediator, Intercessor and Advocate, busy with our watch and our service on earth.