As a father of two young children I am painfully aware of the necessity for ritual. Some might prefer the word “schedule” but I think this downplays the necessary participation of all parties and the genuine benefit derived from participating in the “schedule.” Pertinent to the subject of Christ’s ascension are the rituals surrounding my departure to and arrival from work. There are hugs and kisses as I walk out the door. There are awkward shouts and dances of exaltation when I walk in the door. It really is quite cute coming from children. They’re young and oblivious for thirty-seconds to whatever had been going on in their day. Everything stops. Dad is the main event.
Unfortunately for some Christians, the ascension and return of Jesus Christ is unintentionally similar to this. The results are not quite as cute. Christ’s disciples were sad and confused as He went up to the clouds. The questions about His kingdom continued to persist. The answers remained vague enough for the disciples to persist in their misunderstanding until Pentecost. In the vein of this misunderstanding, some Christians continue to look forward to the day of Christ’s return (this part is right) expecting the fulfillment of His kingdom (this part is mildly wrong). The church in many ways is like my kids, frightfully fun to be around but on the whole not really sure what is happening. Despite my absence my children enjoy the full wealth of benefits derived from my job (e.g. food, toys, AC, and TV). It is the same for the church, while our savior is “away” we enjoy the full benefits of His victory. We just don’t always know what those are.
Okay, so maybe that’s a tad harsh. The simple fact however is the ascension was about Christ establishing His kingdom. Perhaps no other event in Christ’s earthly ministry so explicitly related to the establishing of His kingdom. The disciples simply missed it because they were unaware of how the Christ was to fulfill the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27). Now, I am aware that the book of Daniel is not on the average laymen’s “Top 5” list to read and study in detail. That being side, Daniel explains Christ’s ascension to a degree unfound in any other passage of Scripture. Daniel also does so in a way and context that should bring us sincere pleasure and enjoyment.
This chapter is pretty mind blowing. Thorough exegesis of it is well beyond the practical concern for how Christ effects us today. So instead focus must be paid to the heart of this dramatic vision: Jesus Christ rising before the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13). Historically, the early church fathers almost unanimously believed this passage referred to the second coming of Christ. The glorious nature of the vision seemed to be unparalleled in the Scriptures. More recent study has led many to believe this rising of the “Son of Man” on the “clouds of heaven” described the ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:9-11). This theological shift is generally expressed by modern translations by emphasizing the “up” to “the Ancient of Days.”
Daniel 7:13-14 (NASB)
13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.
The timing of this event is important but so are the surrounding details. The preceding image of the Ancient of Days is fierce and intimidating (Dan 7:9-10). “Thousands upon thousands” stand before Him and the courts are open because “the books [of judgment] were open” (Dan 7:10; Rev 20:12). Collecting images from throughout the Scriptures, this rising up to the Ancient of Days is seen as an apocalyptic depiction of the Son of Man coming before this throne to be given the earth (Psa 2:8-9; Dan 7:14; Rev 5:1-10). Not apocalyptic as in “end time” but in line with the original Greek: a revealing. Many years before it occurred, Daniel provided the apocalyptic vision of the ascension. It reveals what is going on “behind the scenes.” It is the vision the disciples could not yet see. Jesus Christ was ascending to the place where none can stand. He was receiving what no other deserved. His dominion was being established, permanently. The disciples were right to be confused but we know now that it would have been inane for them to be sad. Christ had to ascend to receive the kingdom He would in turn hand to them.
No verse jumps out in application to Christ’s ascension and kingdom ownership then the quiet words from the gospel of Luke, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NASB). I say, “Quiet words” because of the normalcy that seems to extend around them. We don’t see the disciples ruling in the way we imagine so certainly it must not be happening. This is all a continuation of the disciples’’ original mistake. We know better now that we’ve seen Daniel’s apocalyptic vision. This promised kingdom is real and Christ’s dominion would soon be established. That Christ promised the “little flock” (read marginalized, ostracized and rejected) the kingdom is reflected in the prophecy of Daniel. The Christ would suffer and die, the saints would be worn down (Dan 7:25) but in due course this kingdom would “be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One” (Dan 7:27). Despite the church’s many hardships, trials and tribulations this promise rings true. Perhaps more pertinent at different times, Christ’s ascension produced a quite echo throughout time of “your Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.”
Now, of course, Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Daniel’s vision corrects our false understanding though. What Christ means it has been given to Him by the Ancient of the Days! It is not derived from this world. It is not manufactured in this world. It certainly is not established through the toil found in this world. Christ’s disciples don’t fight to establish Christ’s kingdom. They simply inherit it. They inherit it because they are no longer of the world either. As Christ was sent into the world to bring the kingdom to His disciples so also He sends His disciples into the world to share the kingdom (John 17:18). It is with the ascension of Christ that this “sending into the world” begins. It is the ascension that places the kingdom into Christ’s hands and the joyous blessings of the kingdom into the hand of Christian’s throughout history. This is the beauty of Christ’s ascension. This is the joyous event of our Savior departing from the vision of the apostles. It is the slain Lamb’s glorious presentation before the Father worthy to receive the deed for Earth (Rev 5:3-7). This is the church recognizing that the gates of hell cannot stand against it (Matt 16:18).
My children are entirely right to be excited when I return from work. Similarly, it is not wrong to wait in anticipation of Christ’s return. However, my children spend the day living in the glorious blessings of my work and provision. Similarly, the church needs to be daily reminded that for the time being, Christ’s departure is the assurance of the Father giving us the kingdom.
Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @AustinPreterism and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.