When Jesus rose from the dead, His victory over death was manifested to those to whom he appeared – showing death to have had no power over Him. However, His work of redeeming us was not yet complete, as our true home is not in this world, but in the eternal presence of the Blessed Trinity in the Kingdom of Heaven. Accordingly, we continue in our looking at the redeeming work of Jesus Christ by turning our attention to his return to heaven in His Ascension.
After the Resurrection, Jesus remained on the earth for a time, showing His risen presence to chosen disciples in Jerusalem and in the surrounding region – usually in places that were notable within His earthly life. Then, after forty days, Jesus’ departed from this world, being lifted up to the glory of heaven. In particular, Acts 1:6-11 tells us the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven: that forty days after the resurrection Jesus was lifted up from the earth, disappearing into the clouds as the apostles looked on in wonder (Mark 16:19-20 and Luke 24:50-53 also relate the occurrence of this event, with less detail).
Immediately before being lifted up, Jesus spoke to the apostles, assuring them that he would always be with them to the end of the world (see especially Matthew 28:16-20) As Jesus is the Divine Second Person of the Trinity who “came down from heaven,” His ascending to heaven was both proper to His divine nature and a further completing of His saving works on our behalf. That Jesus returns to heaven to be “seated at the right hand of the Father” expresses His divine union with the Father and inaugurates His kingship over the universe. That Jesus ascends in His risen body is significant for us – as Jesus, the firstborn of the dead, both opens heaven and enters into heaven in the glorified human nature. Thus, human nature has been elevated to a new, more perfect life through Jesus’ ascending – as he now reigns in heaven in the fullness of our human nature, revealing more fully to us the true life for which we are meant to live in heaven in the perfection of the human nature.
In his ascending, we also acknowledge that Jesus will return in glory – as referred to in Acts 1:11 that Jesus will return in the same manner by which he departed. Though no one other than the Father knows the day or hour of His coming (as spoken in Matthew 24:36), the truth of Jesus’ glorious return is alluded to throughout the New Testament. In this glorious second coming of Christ, judgement will be rendered upon all who have ever lived, raising to new life those who have died in Christ and consigning to eternal punishment those who have rejected God’s truth and love.
We now live in this final age of awaiting the return of Christ in glory – and the world has been in this final age since the Apostles first began their preaching on Pentecost. However, before His passion and death Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, would come to guide us to all truth within the life of the Church. It is the manifesting of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that we will consider next.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 659-682 consider the ascension of Jesus to heaven and the truth that He will return in glory as judge of the living and the dead.