Christ’s Ascension Into Heaven


Christ’s Ascension Into Heaven

February 10th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
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W.A. Criswell

Ephesians 4:8-10

2-10-57    10:50 a.m.



These are the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Ascension Of Our Savior Into Heaven.  In our preaching through the Word, we are in the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and the text is the ninth through the eleventh verses.

The reading of the context is this.  Ephesians 4:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord, one faith, one baptism;

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

[Ephesians 4:1-6]


That is where we left off the last Sunday night that I preached here.  Now:

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 

Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

(Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.)

[Ephesians 4:7-10]


Somebody asked me this very week, "Where is heaven?"  It is above all heavens.  It is above this created world that you see, above it.  The Bible will speak of a heaven and refer to the heaven where the birds fly. They will – the Bible will refer to a heaven and it means the stars above us, the second heaven.  There is a heaven above all of these heavens that we see.  It is the dwelling place of God, a dwelling place.

The Greek called it a topos, a place.  There is a dwelling place of God above this created world that we look at.

And He ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. 

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect, mature man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

[Ephesians 4:10-13]


Now, our subject, The Ascension Of Our Lord Into Heaven: the eighth verse, "Wherefore he saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8].  There are five tremendous events in the life of our Lord; first His incarnation, His birth.  "Behold, a virgin, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name, God is with us" [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]; His birth, the first great event in the life of our Lord.  The second tremendous event in the life of Jesus is His crucifixion, the atonement on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].  "Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins" [Hebrews 9:22].  The third great event in the life of our Lord is His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7].  "He is the firstfruits of all of them that sleep" [1 Corinthians 15:20].

We someday shall be like Him.  If we die, we shall be raised.  We shall know a resurrection and an ascension [Romans 6:3-5].  We shall see Him as He is [1 John 3:2].  Because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:19].  The third great event in the life of our Lord is His resurrection.  The fourth great event in the life of Jesus is His ascension [Acts 1:9].  He returned to glory, to be Lord and Ruler of the universe.  He led captivity captive, He gave gifts unto men [Ephesians 4:8], gifts that we receive from His gracious hands today.

And the last and final great event in the life of our Lord will be His descent, His coming again.  Had He not ascended, so Paul says, He could not descend.  All of the other four lead up to that great and culminating and climactic, consummating event toward which all time and history do inexorably move, the final consummation of the age, the blowing of the trumpet of the archangel, the personal, visible descent of our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  Those are the five great events in the life of the Lord.

Now our subject this morning is one, one rarely ever hears preached about, the ascension of our Savior into heaven.  The story that we read together is of the disciples walking with our Lord beyond Kidron and up to the brow of Olivet [Luke 24:50].  What a hush, solemn scene, as those disciples talked to the Lord whom they saw crucified [Luke 23:33-46], whom they saw buried [Luke 23:50-53], and who now, immortalized, resurrected, walks in their midst [Luke 24:36-43].  What a solemn, holy hour, with hushed silence they listened to the words that fall from His lips [Luke 24:44-].  And as they converse and walk along together, they reach the brow of the hill that overlooked the holy city of Jerusalem [Luke 24:50].

And while they were speaking together, the Lord raised His pierced hands and in blessing and in benediction, began slowly to rise from the earth before their very eyes [Luke 24:50-51].  And when He reached the region of the clouds, a great shekinah glory of God, a cloud received Him and bore Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9-11].  What a moment.  What an hour.  What an epoch.  What an event.  No wonder they stood there transfixed, gazing up into heaven, whence their Lord had been borne away.  Well, a foolish thing, standing there gazing into heaven.  But it’s pretty hard to be logical about your heart.  Did you ever think that, notice that, watch that in you?  Five hundred thousand reasons why you shouldn’t do thus and so, but your heart inclines.

For example, I wonder, is it with any hope that you do any good when you go to a graveside and stand there, and in silence, weep and cry, and the tears fall down on the mound?  No, you couldn’t justify that by any piece of help or benefit.  But your heart inclines, and you do.

Gazing into heaven; and while they gazed, lest they tarry too long, the Lord sent two angels.  Now you mark, they were not sent with flaming swords in their hands, nor were they sent with rods of correction.  But they were sent with raiment, glorious and white [Acts 1:10].  God knows and God understands; not with His children does He chide and keep His anger forever.

And as they stood gazing there into glory, those angels came and said to them, "Qui bono.  What is the benefit?  Why stand gazing?  This same Lord," then you have the incomparable promise of that final and marvelous and indescribably glorious appearing [Acts 1:11].  Then the angels point to the task, and the word, and the Great Commission the Lord had just laid upon their souls [Acts 1:8].  To begin with, do you ever wonder why is it that the Lord hides Himself away, and why does He tarry so long?  "If these things are so real and so factual, where is Jesus and why did He go away?"

There is the chair at the table where He used to sit, and here are the congregations to whom He once didst speak, and here are the sick that He healed and the dead that He raised.  Ah, the blessing to have had Him!  We couldn’t help but be like the two in Emmaus who constrained Him to abide there still [Luke 24:29].  We would be like that and are now so, if we could, "Lord, abide here with us.  Break bread with us.  Stay with us."

Why did He go away?  Do I exaggerate if I were to say one Lord Jesus is worth ten thousand apostles?  Hadn’t you rather see Him?  Hadn’t you rather have Him?  Hadn’t you rather listen to Him than to listen to a thousand apostles?  Why did He go away?

Think of the blessing He could be in this world.  I know a multitude that I’d like to bring, lay at His feet, "Lord, heal this one.  Open this man’s eyes.  Unstop this man’s ears.  Lord, raise up from a bed of affliction this precious friend."  I think of a multitude I’d like to bring to Jesus if He were just here.  Think of the words of wisdom by which our lives could be directed if He were here.  Ah, the perplexities that overwhelm us, and the perturbations of the mind that drown us – and if just He were here.

And think of His enemies, all the enemies of Christ in this world.  By just one word He could annihilate them all.  Why, I read there in the Bible when they came to arrest Him, He just said His name, "I am He."  They looked for Jesus.  And when He just said it, they all fell backward, paralyzed, transfixed, terrorized just by the Lord saying just a sentence [John 18:5-6].  Think what He could do with His enemies were He here in the world.  And think what He could do about the conversion of the world.  How we need Him.  O Lord, why did You return into heaven?  Why?  Well, that’s the sermon this morning.

There are several reasons why.  First reason is this, our Lord ascended back into glory because it is a part of the great purpose of God through the ages.  God has a plan.  He has a program.  These things that we, to us, they seem so impersonal and they happen just accidentally.  Oh, no.  From the beginning to that final end, God has a program, and God has a plan, and God has a purpose.  And this thing that Jesus has done in going away is not something to hurt His sheep who are down here below, but it is a mark in the advancement of His kingdom.

The despiser and the scorner, he looks upon us, and he says, "Your Christianity is spun out.  Your religion is done for.  The kingdom is over.  The Lord is gone and you are hopeless, and helpless, and alone."  Not so.  Not so!  Our Lord has just gone up into the hills from whence He can survey the field of battle.  Our Lord has just changed His place and His station, and there in glory He is marshaling the cohorts of the Omnipotent who stand waiting and ready against that final day when their Captain shall say the word to charge.  He is just in another place.  He is just in another field.  He is just looking down from another vantage point, but the battle isn’t lost, and the war isn’t over, and Christ has not left or forsaken the field of conflict.  He is just in another place.

All right, a second thing: our Lord ascended to heaven in order that the hearts, and the desires, and the hopes, and the minds of His children might be centered not in this earth, but in the world that is to come.  There are some beautiful passages in the Scriptures, and one is Philippians 3:20: "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  Now that word conversation is better translated, citizenship.  "For our citizenship, our commonwealth is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior."

And another admonition is in Colossians 3:2: "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth."  Our Lord is in heaven that He might draw our attention, and our hope, and our aims, and our desires, and our visions not here, but in glory.  Our treasures are not to be in this world, but in the world that is to come.  And by and by, if you live long enough, you will know the truth of that heavenly vision; all the family on the other side, all of your friends on the other side.

I was talking to an old man yesterday, and he was saying to me that his family had gone on the other side and his friends were all on the other side and that he felt lonesome down here in the earth.  If you live long enough, the day will come when you will be a stranger in this world.  The children, all of the people who know you, they’ve all gone.  And the children look at you as belonging to a day and an age out of some remote, medieval past.

God’s Son and our Savior is where our final vision, and our final hope, and our final dream, and our final home is to be.  What if He were here and we grew old?  What if He were here and the day came for us to die, and He is here, and that great, long vista of the eons and the ages yet to come, and He is here?  Oh, no!  God knows best.  God always knows best.  He never mistakes.  He never fails in the plan.  Our home is there.  Our destiny is there.  Our inheritance is there.  Our mansion is there.  And Jesus is there! [John 14:2-3]. That’s the second reason why He ascended into heaven.

The third reason our Lord ascended into heaven is this: God would teach us to walk by faith and not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7].  Did you ever think what a moratorium it would be on faith if our risen Lord were here in this world?  Why, I suppose these Muslims making their trek toward Mecca, would be a peccadillo compared to the enormous vying, and scrapping, and fighting, and wedging of humanity to get to wherever Jesus was.  You know, I’ve tried to imagine that and it’s beyond my imagination.  If our Lord were here in this world, we’d all be making our way to see Jesus.

No, the religion of our Savior is not physical and material in that way!  It is deeply spiritual like God is spiritual, like His body is spiritual.  Isn’t that a strange thing?  But you can’t preach without contradictions: like His body is spiritual.  Religion is just like that.  Some of the strangest contradictions in it, but they’re true.  The Lord Jesus Christ would have His people a spiritual people who walk by faith, by trust, not by sight.  God is Spirit: and He wishes that they who worship Him worship Him in spirit and in truth [John 4:24].  Whatever is physical in religion is that much less spiritual for His people.

Israel in the wilderness, with an actual sanctuary, and an actual altar, and an actual priest, and an actual tabernacle that their eyes could see, was always prone to idolatry.  Even the ordinances, the Lord’s Supper and baptism are a snare and a delusion to so many.  They engraft upon baptism this thing of baptismal regeneration, that our sins are washed away in the act, that we’re saved by being baptized.  And they even speak of the Lord’s Supper as having sacramental efficacy; these things, no!

The great truths of God are always deeply spiritual, always!  And if a thing is physical like baptism, it but portrays, it but dramatizes a tremendous spiritual truth which in baptism is the washing of regeneration [Romans 6:3-5].  And if there is a Lord’s Supper in itself, it is nothing!  It is still bread, it is still a fruit of the vine; but it portrays, it dramatizes a great spiritual truth! [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  So with all of our religion, our altar is in heaven [Revelation 6:9, 8:3-5].  Our Priest is in heaven.  Our sanctuary is in heaven.  Our great Mediator is in heaven.  The great spiritual truths of God are always spiritual.  And the Lord would have us walk by that faith and not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7].  And our Lord ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10].

May I say another reason why our Lord returned to heaven?  To make sure and certain our inheritance, that we might persevere, that God’s children might surely and assuredly make it [Hebrews 7:25].  How do you know?  How do you know between now and that final time, how do you know but that you will fall into hell?  How do you know?

What a strong adversary we have in Satan.  Why, our little puny hands and our feeble frames, no match for that archangel!  Even Michael, the archangel, dare not rebuke him!  When they were contending about the body of Moses, even Michael dared not rebuke him.  The wonderful power of Satan, even Michael dare not rebuke him, "but saith, The Lord God rebuke thee" [Jude 9].

Why is it that God’s children shall not fall into hell?  No match are we, no equal are we to Satan.  Who shall save us?  Who shall guarantee our inheritance?  Who shall give us that ableness and power and ability to persevere so that finally we make it?  We shall arrive there, and we shall receive that inheritance because we have a great representative in heaven to secure it for us and to keep it for us, and someday to give it to us.

If I were to send a representative there to look after my inheritance in glory, he might fail, I don’t care who he is.  My lawyer, my friend, my best, my all, I don’t care whom I might send.  But when Jesus is there, I have an insured inheritance.  It will be mine.  He will see to it that there’s no power that overwhelms us, that we don’t fall into the abyss.  God will deliver into our hands that wonderful and blessed promised mansion, that home in glory.  God will do it because He is there, and all power is in His hands, and He guides, and He helps, and He constrains, and He leaves, and He blesses, and He keeps, and He preserves.  And some of these days the inheritance will be ours.  He is there to keep it for us [2 Timothy 1:12].

Another reason why our Lord is in heaven: our Lord ascended into heaven to be our Mediator, our Intercessor, to answer the prayers of His people.  Our Lord is in glory.  "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus" [1 Timothy 2:5]; one in person, one in office, one in sex.  Isn’t that strange?  There is one God, one Mediator between God and man – the Man!  Isn’t that strange?  Why would God write that in His Book?  Doesn’t everybody know Jesus is a man?  Does anybody have any doubts or questions about Jesus being a man?  Why emphasize that?  You know why.  There is a great spiritual truth that God would have us know.  There is one God, there is one Mediator between God and man – the Man!  One in office, one in name, one in ministry, one in person, and one in sex, the Man Christ Jesus!

What God is saying to His children is, "You don’t need saints to pray for you; you’ve got the Man, Christ Jesus."  "You don’t need a virgin to pray for you; you have the great Mediator, the Man, Christ Jesus!"  Nowhere, no time, no place is there any suggestion in the Bible that any saint, or any virgin, or any other mediator stands between the soul and the God from whom we implore forgiveness and mercy and help.

We go straight to God, to the great Mediator, the Lord Jesus [1 Timothy 2:5].  He is our Priest [Hebrews 4:14-16], He is our Mediator, He is our Intercessor.  He is our great go‑between, and He stands at the right hand of God in glory.  That’s the reason the Book of Hebrews said, "Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come to God by faith, through Him because He ever liveth to make intercession for them" [Hebrews 7:25].

Jesus is our Intercessor.  Jesus is our Mediator.  Jesus is our Pleader.  Jesus listens to the prayers of His children.  That’s why He ascended on high; Jesus in heaven, our great High Priest through the veil into the sanctuary, there at the right hand of the throne of power [Hebrews 12:2] to listen to the feeblest cry of His humblest children.

Now hurriedly this last, why our Lord ascended into heaven: my text, "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8].  If I had another hour, I’d preach the second sermon here on the entrance of our Lord into glory.  And there are several wonderful passages in the Bible that I’d preach from.  One of them would be the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation.

I think the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation is a scene in glory when our Lord, like a conqueror coming back from the field of battle, when He came and the angels acclaimed Him and all heaven sang the praises of the return of their Conquering Hero, leading death captive, Satan forever defeated, leading captivity captive.  "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive."

And they sang a new song saying, Worthy is the Lamb. Glory and honor and blessing and power be unto the Lamb forever and ever.

And the thousands times ten thousand angels, they said, And forever and forever.

And the saints of all ages and all time, they said, "And hallelujah, forever and forever.

[from Revelation 5:9-14]


 "When He ascended up on high, when He led captivity captive" [Ephesians 4:8].

I said if I had another hour, I’d like to preach about the entrance of Jesus into glory.  The Bible says, "And He was seen of angels.  And He was seen of angels" [1 Timothy 3:16].  They knew Him.  They’ve been watching Him, and He comes back to heaven.  That’s why the Psalm was inspired.  Do you remember it?   "Lift up your heads, O all ye gates; and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The Lord, great and mighty" – Jesus, the God of hosts, leading captivity captive, "He is the King of glory" [Psalm 24:7-10].

Would you like to hear that sermon Dr. Fowler?  We’ll just stay here another hour then and talk about Jesus when He entered into heaven.  Wouldn’t that be a great message to preach?  "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8].  Ah, in this little moment, we must close, "and gave gifts unto men."  You can see the imagery of that, the great conquering hero, and giving gifts, His rewards unto men.

Now, he’s not talking here about the end of time, though that’s true.  "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man [according] as his work shall be" [Revelation 22:12].  But he’s not talking about that here, "And He led captivity captive," when He entered into glory, "and gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8].   And He gave some and Paul just mentions a few.  "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and some teachers" [Ephesians 4:11], all of us a measure of grace, all of us, all of us.  God in Christ when the Lord returned to glory, God fitted some gift for me, and God fitted a gift for you.  Ah, how greatly we differ!

And you know, often times, I hear people say to me, "Pastor, I am so unable.  I don’t have any talents. I can’t sing," and they call somebody, "I can’t sing like they can sing.  And I can’t stand up and talk eloquently, and I can’t pray beautifully like Dr. Fowler prays for our souls.  And I just; it just looks like I can’t do anything."

Well, I know how you feel because about ninety-nine percent of the time, I feel, "Lord, I’m just a complete failure.  O Lord, if I could preach like I want to preach, if I could say that thing as it ought to be said, Lord, if I could just describe that thing like it ought to be described, O God what it would be!" 

But oh, you stammer and you stumble, and your words are feeble and stuttering.  We’re all that way.  We’re all that way.  Wish we could be a thousand times better for Jesus’ sake.  Wish we could do it a thousand times stronger and finer for Jesus, but this is our comfort, "And He gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8], each one of us.  Each one of us has his gift.  All of us something and that’s what makes the body glorious.

The foot can’t say to the head, "I don’t have any need of thee."  And the hand can’t say to the eye, "And I don’t need thee."  And the ear can’t say to the tongue, "And I have no need of thee."  But God put all the body beautifully together.  And the foot has its place, and the eye has its place, and the hand has its place [1 Corinthians 12:14-20], and the apostle has his place, and the evangelist has his place, and the pastor has his place, and the teacher has his place, and you have a place.  You have a place.

Some of us are like little pieces of glass in the window, and some of us are like globes up there that shine in the chandelier, and some of us are like pillars in the house of the Lord, and some of us like foundation stones and you don’t ever see them, they’re buried there deep in the earth.  And some of us are like little shingles up there on the top of the roof, and some of us are like a spire, pointing people to God.  But it takes us all to make the house, and it takes us all to make the body, and it takes us all to exalt Jesus.  "And He gave gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8], and He gave one to you.  There is something God has given to you.  Ah, the blessed privilege; the blessed privilege of dedicating what God hath given us to the purposes and the holy usefulnesses that magnify His name, and build up His church, and honor His cause in the earth.

We must make our appeal and that’s it.  God speaks to His people.  Little boy came to me this morning.  I said, "Why are you come to see me?"  He says, "I feel the Lord has spoken to my heart."  I said, "Son, that’s right.  He always does."  God made us that way.  God speaks to your heart, and He calls, and He knocks at the door, blessing you when you open it wide, "Come in Lord, come in.  The best seat in the house, that’s Yours; the best room in my heart, that’s Yours; the best day of my life, that’s Yours; the finest moment, Lord, that’s Yours."

Would you make it that?  Give yourself to the Lord, do it now.  In the great balcony round, down these stairwells; in the great press of people on this floor here, into the aisle and down here, "Pastor, I have felt God’s call to my heart, His quickening Spirit in my life, and here I come."  Trusting Him, dedicating your life to Him, putting your life with us in the church, a family of you, or one somebody you, while we sing the song and make the appeal, would you come?  Would you do it now, while we stand and while we sing?