On Ascension Sunday, we mark the departure of the Lord Jesus into Heaven, where He was received in great glory, and where He was crowned with universal dominion. This is our celebration of His coronation proper. But there were a series of glorifications prior to this, each one building on the last—at each stage of the gospel. And so the Ascension, rightly understood, is the crown of the gospel.
“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13–14).
Summary of the Text:
The one place in the Old Testament where Son of Man was plainly a Messianic title was here in this place. Elsewhere it was commonly used to identify a human prophet, like Ezekiel for example. Here the one like the Son of Man is a figure of infinite dignity, and He is granted an everlasting kingdom.
When we read the phrase coming on the clouds, we think of the Second Coming, as though it were speaking of Jesus coming to earth. But the phrase refers to the Ascension—it speaks of Jesus coming into Heaven, coming into His crown. “Came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days . . .” The passage tells us where He comes. He comes into the throne room of Heaven, and there He is given universal dominion.
And this is the reality that Jesus self-consciously refers to when He was on trial before the Sanhedrin. Within a few months, He would be standing before the Ancient of Days, with everlasting honors bestowed on Him, but right then He was standing before the petit principalities, who were filled with malice and poured out every form of dishonor they could think of. And when the high priest asked Him if He was the Christ, the Son of Blessed, Jesus said, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).
And notice their reaction to this:
“Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:63–64).
For Jesus to say that He would be seated on the right hand of power, and that He would come to that right hand of power on the clouds of Heaven, was reckoned by them as blasphemy, and was worthy—or so they thought—of death.
What Jesus received at the Ascension is what we normally think of when we think of a coronation. It was glorious beyond anything any of us could imagine, but what we can imagine was a minuscule amount of the same kind of glory. But we arrived there in stages, and the earliest form of Christ’s glorification represented a different kind of glory.
Think of these elements of the gospel. Christ was crucified. He was buried. He was raised from the dead. He ascended into Heaven. Let us meditate on the gospel progress of those four words—crucified, buried, raised, and ascended.
Building to the Ultimate Crescendo:
Crucified—we begin with the glory of His humiliation. “And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matt. 27:29). The Bible teaches that the cross was a moment of glory (John 12:27-28). The purest man who ever lived laid down His life for millions of the grimiest. Not only so, but God calls it a glory that He did so.
Buried—the Lord Jesus was glorified in His burial through the love of His forgiven followers. “For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:12–13). So the preliminary ointment of burial is part of this stupendous story, not to mention what Nicodemus did after the fact (John 19:39). So another glory, another part of the wonder of this story is the fact that God gathers up the tears of the truly repentant (Luke 7:38), and stores them in His treasury (Ps. 56:8). This is yet another glory. But the tears that adorn His burial are only possible because of His burial.
Raised—why did the Lord Jesus tell the demons, and also tell His followers, not to proclaim His identity? I believe it was because He was jealous to have the first great proclamation be made by His Father. “And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). We are starting to approach the threshold of unspeakable joy, and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8). The disciples staggered in their joy (Luke 24:41). They were as those who dreamed (Ps. 126:1-2).
Ascended—in the Ascension, the matter is settled. But telling the gospel story faithfully prevents us from trying to circumvent God’s pattern. Apart from the cross, no sinner should ever be trusted with a crown. Our tendency is to go straight to the triumph, by-passing the difficulties. But the Lord established a better pattern for us than this.
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Phil. 2:8–10).