We tend to focus on the way Jesus came into the world. It will pay us not to overlook the way he left.

Christmas means poinsettias and pageants; Easter, masses of snow-white lilies and the grand sounds of the “Hallelujah” chorus. But Ascension Day usually comes and goes without a trace: no special flowers, no bathrobe drama—not even a bare word of recognition. Yet this day (May 28 this year) commemorates a watershed event.

We pay a lot of attention to Jesus’ coming into the world as a baby at Christmas. Then the fanfare was impressive: stars, angels, heavenly hosts. But Jesus left the world, too, and his leaving is cause for celebration.

A Cloud Took Him

Jesus’ ascension was witnessed by only his disciples. Three New Testament passages give accounts.

Mark 16:19–20 indicates that after Jesus commissioned his disciples, he was received into heaven and was seated at the “right hand of God.” While this phrase may sound jarringly graphic to us, it is best understood as a metaphor for power and authority. In Scripture, to be “seated at the right hand of God” is to be given a supreme place of honor and authority, a role God granted symbolically to Old Testament kings (Ps. 110:1). Mark’s gospel proclaims that Jesus journeyed from Earth to heaven and now reigns with the sovereign authority of God (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 8:1–2). Jesus now participates in the glory he shared with God before the world was created (John 17:5).

In Luke 24:50–53, Jesus blessed his disciples, “withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” Then “they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (NRSV). At this Gospel’s beginning, angels announced “good news of a great joy” when Jesus was born (2:10). Now the Gospel ends with worship and praise as the ...

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