By Charles H. Welch
The Greek word
anabaino is translated ‘ascend’ ten times and ‘ascend up’
eight times. It occurs altogether 81 times and is translated arise, climb up,
come, come up, come up again, enter, go up, grow up, rise up, spring up and,
with epi, go upon.
The eight occurrences translated ‘ascend up’
‘Ascending up to Jerusalem’.
‘No man hath ascended up to heaven’.
‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up’.
‘When He ascended on high’.
‘The same also that ascended up far above all heavens’.
‘The smoke ... ascended up before God’.
‘They ascended up to heaven in a cloud’.
‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth up’.
While evangelical believers rightly stress the fundamental place that the
Crucifixion, the Burial, the Resurrection and the Coming again of the Saviour
must ever occupy, the supreme importance of the Ascension seems to have been
The only gospel of the four that omits the Ascension is Matthew, but this is
in harmony with its teaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. Should any think
that the Ascension is omitted also from John by the fact that it does not occur
in the last chapter, we commend a reading of chapter 20. Not only did the Lord
Himself make reference to His approaching death and Resurrection, He also spoke
on more than one occasion of His Ascension:
‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came
down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven’ (John 3:13).
‘The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, I am
the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the
son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that He saith,
I came down from heaven? ... Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see
the Son of man ascend up where He was before?’ (John 6:41,42,61,62).
Here we touch the most vital subject of the Scriptures, nothing less than the
very mystery of godliness. That this is not simply the figurative expression of
an enthusiast, turn to 1 Timothy 3:16 and note the opening and closing items,
‘Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh ... received
up in glory’. It will be seen by comparing John 6:42 with the Lord’s own answer
and this revelation in 1 Timothy 3:16, that the deity of Christ, His assumption
of flesh, the finishing of His work, and His resumption of glory are deeply
involved. To omit this consummation of the mystery of godliness is to give place
to the satanic mystery of iniquity, which with blasphemous pretensions likewise
places a ‘man’ upon the throne of deity (2 Thess. 2:3-12).
The Ascension of Christ was the grand testimony of Scripture to the fact that
His work was finished:
‘I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do
... and I COME TO THEE’ (John 17:4,11; cf. John 13:3).
The Ascension of Christ is the basis of the believer’s victory during the
‘Who is he that condemneth? Is it Christ that died?
yea rather, that is risen again, Who is EVEN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD?
Who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of
Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or
nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... Nay, in all these things we are
more than conquerors through Him that
loved us’ (Rom. 8:34-37 Author’s translation).
The fact that Christ has ascended enables the believer not only to triumph
over such mundane things as famine or nakedness, but ‘death, life, angels,
principalities and powers’ also, for Peter declares of Christ that He ‘is gone
into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers
being made subject unto Him’ (1 Peter 3:22). The finished work spoken of in John
17 in connection with the Ascension bulks large in the epistle to the Hebrews.
In two of the references the mystery of godliness is in view:
‘Hath in these last days spoken unto us
in Son ... when He had by Himself
purged our sins, sat down on the right
hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:2,3).
‘A body hast
Thou prepared Me ... this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for
ever, sat down on the right hand of
God’ (Heb. 10:5,12).
In both of these passages the same sequence is observable as in 1 Timothy
3:16, ‘manifest in the flesh ... received up in glory’. Hebrews 8:1 says:
‘Now of the things which we have spoken THIS IS
THE SUM (PRINCIPAL THING): we have such an high priest, Who is set on the
right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens’.
Connected with this ascended position is the blessed assurance of an
‘Wherefore He is able also to save them to the
uttermost that come unto God by Him,
seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them’ (Heb. 7:25).
The key-word of Hebrews is ‘perfect’, and the great exhortation (Heb.
13:20,21) is found in the words of Hebrews 6:1, ‘Let us go on unto perfection’.
The word ‘perfect’ is allied to the word ‘end’, and the scriptural conception of
perfection is not that which goes by the name of ‘sinless perfection’, but of
reaching the end for which one has been saved, as Paul puts it in Philippians
3:12, ‘Not as though I had already attained,
either were already perfect, but I
follow after, if that I may
apprehend that for which also I am
apprehended of Christ Jesus’. We have
said all this because the ‘uttermost salvation’ is that which goes to the full
‘end’ or ‘all the way’, and without the ascended Christ this full salvation
would be in jeopardy. While it suffices for Acts 1:9 to say, ‘He was taken up,
and a cloud received Him out of their sight’, this is not sufficient for the
epistle to the Hebrews. That epistle says:
‘Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that
is PASSED INTO (THROUGH) the heavens ‘ (Heb. 4:14).
‘For such an High Priest became us, Who is holy,
harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made HIGHER THAN the
heavens’ (Heb. 7:26).
‘For Christ is not entered into the holy places made
with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into HEAVEN ITSELF,
now to appear in the presence of God for us’ (Heb. 9:24).
While it may not be possible to fix the date of the epistle to the Hebrews,
its very title ‘to the Hebrews’, as well
as its references to the people of Israel, tells us that dispensationally it
does not belong to a period that is peculiarly Gentile in character. Right
through the Acts of the Apostles we see a controversy that necessitates the
clear-cut teaching of Hebrews to prevent a Judaized form of Christianity
swamping the truth. In Romans and Galatians the opposition comes from the Jew,
with his works of law. In the last chapter of the Acts we reach a crisis. Israel
in the dispersion act precisely as Israel at home had acted, and there in Acts
28 we witness the removal of that people, ‘until the fulness of the Gentiles be
come in’. It does not require a profound knowledge of Scripture to realize that
the removal from the scene of such a people as Israel must precipitate a crisis,
and involve very drastic changes in God’s dealings with men. It is here where
the Ascension of Christ becomes of such
fundamental importance. Rejected by Israel, He now rejects Israel, and His
claims upon the earthly sphere of God’s purposes are temporarily suspended,
being put into force when the ‘mystery of God’ shall be finished (Rev. 10:7), in
a yet future day.
We now know, through the revelation given in such epistles as Ephesians and
Colossians, that God in His wisdom had fully provided for Israel’s defection,
and in direct connection with the ascended Christ He revealed, after Acts 28, in
those epistles which are called for convenience ‘The Prison Epistles’
(Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy) a mystery or secret which
was planned and purposed ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4), and
‘before age times’ (2 Tim. 1:9), which mystery concerns a company of believers
taken mainly from among the Gentiles, who were ‘chosen in Christ before the
foundation of the world’, and made a ‘joint body’ (Eph. 3:6), blessed with all
spiritual blessings ‘in heavenly places’ (Eph. 1:3), created as ‘one new man’
(Eph. 2:15), and with no middle wall of partition to perpetuate the distinction
between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). All these blessings are intimately and
inseparably connected with the ascended Christ. ‘Heavenly places’, the sphere of
these new blessings, is defined as the place where Christ ascended after His
Resurrection, ‘far above all principality and power’, etc. (Eph. 1:20,21), and
this unique company of believers are told that not only are they ‘raised up
together’ but made to ‘sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Eph.
2:6). A new ministry, with a definite work in connection with this new company,
was given by the ascended Christ:
‘When He ascended up on high, He ... gave gifts unto
men ... and He gave some, apostles ... for the edifying of (building up) of
the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:8-12).
Parts 6 and 7 of this Analysis will be devoted to
DOCTRINE as distinct from DISPENSATIONAL
matters. Where the exposition appears to fall short in the Dispensational
Section (parts 1 to 5), the reader may find a fuller treatment in parts 6 and 7.