These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“… sit with him in the heavenly places …” (v. 6) RSV
Keep looking down! What a strange thing to tell a Christian to do. But it all depends where you are when the instruction is given. St Paul tells us that we have been “raised up” (v.6), or ascended with Christ Jesus, and now sit with him in God’s presence. So we now look down on earth and adopt God’s view on life.
No longer are we a worm slithering between the grasses and no longer are we unable to see beyond the next obstacle. We have risen up and we can now get the overall picture. Our whole perspective on life is transformed. We enjoy the big picture.
Now we are able to understand God’s long-term strategy, and above all we understand that all things will one day be put right. We no longer need to look up to God, earnestly hoping that he will come down and help, for we are now in the presence of God and are able to have fellowship with him. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places (v.6). The privileges of Christ Jesus are our privileges. Incredible! He earned it through his life of love and obedience. We receive it as an unmerited gift.
Our faith and confidence will grow as we realise all that we receive in Christ. We are limited by our ignorance. Faith grows through hearing the truth, and the truth will set us increasingly free. We are “seated with Christ Jesus” (v.6); let its full import seep into your mind.
My Lord and my God, forgive me that I have understood so little of all you have achieved. Increase my faith and my boldness. Amen.
“… but if I go, I will send him to you.” (v. 7) RSV
The departure of Jesus was like any two-sided coin. On the one hand it was loss and grief to his disciples, but on the other hand it was gain and expectation for them. Jesus said that unless he left them they could not receive the Holy Spirit whom he would send to them.
His ascension and return to heaven meant that the Holy Spirit could come in all his fullness bringing all the benefits of the crucified, risen and exalted Christ. Believers would from then on be filled with the very life of the Christ.
So Jesus told his bewildered disciples: “It is to your advantage that I go away …” (v.7). The ascension of Jesus ushered in the new age of the Spirit. His people would receive “power” (Acts 1:8) to be witnesses. They would be bold, and therefore “prepared to give a reason” for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15). How often has the church been spiritless? She has been so inconspicuous that you’d think Christ commanded his followers to ‘Go out into all the world, shut up and keep your heads down!’
Jesus was anointed (Christ-ed) for his ministry, and we too need to be anointed for ours. He told his disciples to wait after his ascension for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We too need to be aware that this great Gift is the heritage of all who follow Christ.
Thank you Lord that you change my mourning into dancing, that you send the joy and power of your Spirit into my life and the life of the church. Amen.
Jesus ascended into heaven to be there to welcome us. He has prepared a place for us. He will come again when we die to receive us so that we may be where he is.
Some of us find it extremely difficult to go to a party where we know no one, indeed where we discover we are not even invited. But when we die the reception will be warm. We will be expected and recognised. The Host himself will greet us with God’s beaming smile.
This “place” (v.2) is described variously. In this passage the image of a Mansion is used – plenty of space and hospitality. Elsewhere it is described as a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) suggesting an environment of nature and animals. Again, the image of a “City” is used (Revelation 21:10) indicating many people.
Not only has our Lord prepared a place for us, but he also will come again to take us to be with him (v. 3). When we die we will not be lost, wandering and wondering how to get there. He is the Way (v.6) and will show us the way.
St Paul explains: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives” (Ephesians 4:8). Our Lord will save us from “this body of death” (Romans 7:24); our captivity to sin will be ended, and in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:22) we shall be changed. Hallelujah, what a saviour!
Thank you that heaven is big enough to include me, and broad enough to include all sorts. Amen.
“… he always lives to make intercession for them” (v. 25) RSV
At first Jesus sat in heaven having completed his work on earth, but he now ever stands in order to minister. His ministry on earth is over, but his ministry in heaven has just begun and it is primarily prayer. He prays for us.
Do you remember how he prayed for Peter that “his faith would not fail” (Luke 22:32)? Peter still went on to deny Jesus three times, but his faith did not fail, for he was able to repent and be restored. When Jesus intercedes for us it does not mean that we cannot fail or that everything will go smoothly. Prayer does not fully bring heaven on earth, but it does strengthen us to stand our ground and fight the good fight.
The intercessions of the risen Christ are not only praying for us to continue to the end, but are always presenting his wounds. That may sound odd, but the nail marks and the stripes that he received are tokens of his life poured out. His sacrificial love has bought for us forgiveness and new life. His presence in heaven before the Father is a continual reminder of the ever loving heart of God. Because of Jesus there is always a way back to God from the dark paths of sin.
An example of the intercessions and prayers of Jesus is seen in his ‘High Priestly’ prayer in John 17. There you will see that he prays for himself, for his apostles and for all who believe through their witness (i.e. you and me). We are not alone. He has not left us nor forsaken us. He is with us and he prays for us.
Thank you Lord for your loving concern and involvement in my life. May I also pray for others as you pray for me. Amen.
“Crown him with many crowns” are the words of a well known hymn. The King of kings has fulfilled his mission, ascended back into heaven and is now crowned. The exaltation moves Jesus on from the human version of God to the glorified Christ. He is no longer limited by his mortal frame, but has become the first-born of a new order of existence. He has been the trail blazer.
The letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 8:4-6 in order to express this coronation: “Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” (Hebrews 2:7-8). What a magnificent testimony to his unique life and achievement.
The followers of Jesus can rest assured that the kingdom of God has an ever-living and all powerful King sitting on the throne. They are on the winning side!
Paul also realised another benefit of this coronation. It was going to be available in some wonderful sense for all Christ’s people. He wrote to his protégé Timothy, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which … will be awarded to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy. 4:8). Thus, we too will reign with him when he comes in his kingdom. What a prospect! Be encouraged!
I rejoice that you Lord Jesus Christ have been glorified in the presence of your Father. Praise be! Amen.
There comes a time when the battle of life comes to an end; we are not condemned to be forever in this fallen world. Of course there are many good times, but as followers of Jesus we have many a fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. We will never come back in any sense re-incarnated. We will, for better or for worse, leave this world.
Jesus said that that was exactly what he was going to do: “I am no more in the world” (v.11). He had worked hard and made the ultimate sacrifice. On the Cross he had cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He had completed the work he had been given to do. He was free at last to enter his rest!
As it says, “He sat down at the right hand of the Father” (Hebrews 10:12). As we shall see, as these weeks roll by, he would thereafter often ‘stand’ in heaven to continue his work, but the first picture is of him seated – a work well done. He had accomplished all he came to do on earth.
One day we too will complete the race of life and enter our rest. Meantime we continue to work with all the strength God gives us. We battle against evil and we seek to be worthy witnesses of God’s saving love within us. There is much work to be done. “The days are evil, let us redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16).
As Jesus said, “It is he who continues to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
Help me, O Lord, to keep going to the end. For the joy set before me may I be strengthened today. Amen.
If you stand in a lift you can only go up or down, but if you’re going to heaven is it ‘up’? Famously, the first Russian astronauts did not find God up above the bright blue sky. Why? Because neither God nor heaven is geographically or spatially ‘up there’.
And yet when Jesus prayed it says he looked “up”, or, “lifted up his eyes to heaven” (John 17:1). So there is no doubt that spiritually speaking God is above us. But when Stephen was being stoned to death he gazed not so much up as “into heaven” (Acts 7:55) RSV.
That is why when Jesus bodily ascended to heaven it was not so much upwards and upwards, but upwards and inwards. His ascension was not a matter of levitation (though that could have been possible), for he was “lifted up” (v.9). The cloud of angels took him through the veil into the ‘heavenlies’.
This may still seem strange to us, though the resurrected body of Jesus seems in no way to have been limited to the restrictions of our mortal bodies. St Paul says that when Jesus returns at the end of time we too (who are alive) “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air;” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The disappearance of the risen Christ in bodily form was an historic and visible act. It signified much of which we shall look at during the weeks that lie ahead.
Dear Lord, help me to learn much more of the meaning of your glorious ascension for me and your Church. Amen.
1 Who else ascended into heaven?
2 Kings 2:11-12
2 Read Luke’s simple description of Jesus’ departure
The Altar lay outside the Tent, and indeed was the key to entering. The altar was outside not only so that the tent was not burnt by its fire, but because sacrifice was always the prerequisite to drawing close to God. No sinful human being could presume to go barging into the presence of God without due preparation. The first stage was to be cleansed from sin and rebellion.
As the writer to the Hebrews says: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). This is what the altar was for.
Jesus fulfilled and so ended the need to keep sacrificing burnt offerings on the altar, by offering himself as the one, perfect sacrifice. Again, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “(Christ) has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).We approach our Lord not because we are good, but because he (Jesus Christ) is good. It was God himself who was, in his son Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), dying for us that we might be forgiven. His love for us cost him his life.
The altar is, however, not only there for sacrifice for sin, but also for sacrifices of thanksgiving! God has given so much and it is only right that we should offer back to him the first fruits of our gains. Gratitude is a key attitude to cultivate within ourselves. It stops us taking things for granted and even grumbling that we have not got more!
Paul expresses well the sacrifices that are fitting for us to give: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Our God is pleased with the dedication of ourselves to him, and “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Thank you Lord for your love and sacrifice for me. May I respond in generous love and sacrifice for you. Amen.
1 What was Abraham going to sacrifice on his homemade altar?
“you shall make the seven lamps for it” (v.37) RSV
This piece of furniture is well known nowadays as the Menorah – the seven branched lampstand or candelabrum. We learnt two weeks ago about the Laver which was used to cleanse, and last week about the Table of showbread (Bread of the Presence) which was used to feed. This week’s Lampstand has the natural benefit of bringing light.
In this dark world we need the light of God’s presence and also the light of his word to guide us. As the Psalmist says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Jesus brings us the presence of God, and surely that is why he said “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The love of Jesus dispels gloom and the teaching of Jesus clears away ignorance.
The arrival of Jesus (the word made flesh) is expressed well by John in the opening verses of his Gospel: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).
The seven-branched lampstand/candelabrum resided in the Holy Place in front of the veil that hid the Holy of Holies. It was regularly filled with oil to sustain the flames. This too was fulfilled in Jesus who lived by the life and power of the Holy Spirit. He was daily filled with heavenly power, and that was why he shone so brightly wherever he went.
We too are called to be lights in this world, and we can only do so by being filled with the same Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “You are the light of the world … men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine …” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Thank you Lord for the light of your Spirit and your Word. Fill me afresh today and every day so I may shine for you.
“… set the bread of the Presence on the table” (v.30) RSV
What could be a clearer indication of the bread of Communion than this Old Testament symbol of the “bread of the Presence” (v.30) or Showbread (e.g. 2 Chronicles 13:11)?
Every Sabbath twelve fresh loaves were prepared for the table; they were placed in two rows of six, and the previous twelve were eaten. Surely the significance of this ritual was that the bread is made holy by the presence of God, and is then consumed by Aaron and his sons (representing the people of God), so that they may become partakers of the divine nature.
John appears to refer to this process of divinisation in his account of the Feeding of the 5000. He records Jesus as saying: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). There is no doubt that the very life blood of God flows into us through the symbolic bread.
And symbolic it is. However high its significance, however holy, and however much a means of grace, it is not in itself the Presence of God. There is no magic here. It has not changed irresistibly into ‘God’! It remains bread, and yet when eaten in faith it truly conveys the Presence of God.
Did not Jesus himself illustrate this point when he cited the occasion when David and his men were hungry in the desert, “Have you not read what David did, when hungry, and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for him to eat …” (Matthew 12:3-4). He was arguing with the Pharisees that rituals, however important, are only relative and may sometimes be broken. The Bread would have been to David and his men ordinary, not divine; it was still bread!
The bread of the Presence was a wonderful foreshadowing of the gift of the Bread of Communion that we have today.
May I truly receive you, O Lord, and your life when I receive your word and eat the Bread of Communion.
1 Read about David eating the Bread of the Presence
Three items lay within the Holy Place: the Laver, the Table and the Lampstand. This week we pause to consider the Laver or Sea. This was a vast dish that was full of water. Its purpose was for cleansing and purification. Whenever we approach God we need to do so “with clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4)
This idea is taken up by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells his disciples that it is “the pure in heart” who will see God (Matthew 5:8). The outward washing can only at best be a sign of the more important inward cleansing. In the end all outward rituals are only outward, but God looks on the heart. However, doing things outwardly can help us achieve things inwardly. Ablutions are one of those activities.
This theme is taken up in the letter to the Hebrews: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
Once again Peter reminds us that water by itself cannot cleanse us inwardly: “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah and the Ark), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience …” (1 Peter 3:21).
Jesus enacted the ritual of ablution with water during the Last Supper when he took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:12-17). They did not need a complete bath (for baptism achieved that!), but they needed daily cleansing from the sins and toil of the day.
The Laver in the Tabernacle was the only source of water for the cleansing process. It enabled people to be purified and so able to enter in the holy presence of their God. We too want to be able to draw close and be safe in his presence.
Father, I am not worthy to enter into your presence, but say the word only and I shall be cleansed. Wash me thoroughly with your word. Amen.
“put into the ark the testimony which I shall give” (v.16) RSV
The Ark resided in the Holy of Holies and it specifically represented the presence of God. The word ‘ark’ literally means a box or boat. Of course there is the well known ark of Noah, but the ark of God was a carefully constructed box which measured 2½ cubits (112cm) by 1½ (77cm) by 1½ cubits (77cm). It was covered with gold inside and out, and it was carried by two poles that fitted through rings which were attached to each of its four corners.
This box contained “the testimony” (v.16) of God. That is, it contained the two tablets of stone that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai upon which were written the Ten Commandments. Thus the law of God resided in the ark, representing his just and holy presence.
However the ark did not only consist of the box, for God instructed that above it should sit the “mercy seat” (v.17). This construction represented the love of God which overcame his justice. The two cherubim sat opposite each other with their wings touching so that they created a holy space between themselves. This space (note, no idol or representation of God) was filled with the love of God.
As God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat … I will speak with you …” (V.22). Here is revealed the whole purpose of religion, to meet with the living God. The ark was normally kept in the most holy place, but it had a chequered history, once being captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:1-7:2). Later King David tried to bring it to Jerusalem (before the Temple was built). His first attempt was disastrous because he did not carry it as God had instructed. Consequently Uzzah died (2 Samuel 6:6-7). On the second attempt it was carried with due reverence and all was well.
God is holy and is to be obeyed, but he is also merciful and longs to forgive and to restore. So when we come to him we trust not in our merit but in his steadfast love and mercy.