OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-28-81 10:50 a.m.
In these days, all of you who are members of the church know so well, and to the great throng of visitors, the pastor is preaching a very long series of sermons on the great doctrines of the Bible. I was asked to do so by the Zondervan Publishing Company. And each year there will be a little volume of these doctrinal messages printed and distributed. And in the long, long series, which is divided into fifteen sections, we are in the third section, which is on Christology, the doctrine of Christ.
And in the present part of that series on our Lord, we have spoken of Our Lord’s Entrance Into This Earth, His virgin birth; Our Lord’s Entrance Into Human Suffering, His atoning death; Our Lord’s Entrance Into The Grave; Our Lord’s Entrance, last Sunday, Into Resurrection Life; and today, the message is entitled Our Lord’s Entrance Into Heaven, His ascension into glory.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18:
Wherefore He saith, the Holy Spirit of God witnesses, When Christ 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 this earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)
When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
There are eight great epochs in the life of our Savior: His eternal preexistence in heaven [John 1:1]; His descent into the earth, His virgin birth [Matthew 1:23-25]; His mighty ministry, incomparable in word and in deed [Acts 2:22]; His atoning death on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]; His resurrection from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]; His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]; His triumphant and kingly return [Revelation 1:7]; and last, His eternal reign in heaven and in earth [Revelation 21,22].
Of those eight, one is like a Jacob’s ladder [Genesis 28:12-13]: His descent and His ascent into heaven, that heaven of heavens – the third heaven, as the Bible names them: the first heaven where the birds fly and the clouds go by; the second heaven of the sidereal spheres and the Milky Way and the stars that shine; then the heaven of heavens, where God’s throne is forever set, to which heaven our Lord has ascended [Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9].
We’re going to look at that ascension in four ways: as we view it from the earth, as the angels watched it in heaven, as the Old Testament saints waited in promise, and as the New Testament church, the bride of Christ, receives her Bridegroom.
First: the ascension of our Lord into heaven as we view it from the earth; the Scriptures witness, testify, such as in 1 Peter chapter 1, such as in Revelation chapter 13. Our Lord is described as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth [Revelation 13:8]. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is presented a scene in the primordial existence of time when the Christ, the Captain of the host of heaven, volunteered to redeem a coming, fallen humanity [Hebrews 10:4-14]. In the foreknowledge of God, He saw the rebellion of Lucifer [Ezekiel 28:15-17], the fall of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6], and the despair and waste of the world.
When therefore in the rebellion in the sin in heaven and the desecration of God’s beautiful creation, the world became waste and void [Genesis 1:2], it became a house of woe. The earth became an immeasurable cemetery in which we bury our dead [Genesis 3:1-6], and it groans and travails in agony until now [Romans 8:22]. In the midst of that fall there was given to the fallen human race a protevangelium, a gospel before the gospel. It is found in Genesis 3:15: the Seed of the woman shall destroy and bruise and crush Satan’s head.
And the rest of the Bible is the carrying out in God’s faithfulness of that promise of a Deliverer, a Redeemer. He comes through the line of Seth, not Cain. He comes through the line of Noah and Shem. He is to come through the line of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He is to be a member of the house and family of David. And the prophecies thereafter describe the beauty, the preciousness, the comfort, the deliverance, and the glory of His reign.
And in keeping with that holy promise of God, in the fullness of time, He was born of a woman [Galatians 4:4-5]; then followed His ministry of deed and word [Acts 2:22]; His atoning death [Matthew 27:32-50]; His resurrection from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]; His ascension into heaven [Luke 24:50-51]. In the passage that we read together this morning in Acts 1:9, as He ascended into glory, a cloud – to us, a cloud is a mist; no, the shekinah glory of God – covered Him and received Him up into heaven. That’s the way the story reads as we view the ascension of our Lord from the earth.
Second: as the angels watched the ascension of our Lord in heaven – in the rebellion of Lucifer in the dim ages of the ages past, one-third of the angelic host of heaven chose to follow Satan [Revelation 12:4], but two-thirds of them were true and loyal and faithful to their crowned Prince, the preexistent Lord Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, the eternal God [Revelation 12:4]. And in that rebellion, two-thirds of those angels in heaven were made aware of God’s redemptive plan, but they couldn’t understand it.
In the first chapter of 1 Peter, it says that the angels desire to look into what God was doing [1 Peter 1:12]. It was an astonishing and indescribably amazing providence when they saw their crowned Prince of Glory, the preexistent Christ God come down into the womb of a virgin girl named Mary and be born as one of us, a man [Matthew 1:23-25]. And all through the life of our Lord did the angels watch over in amazement.
In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says, Great is the mustērion , the secret God kept in His heart. “Great is the mustērion of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, seen of angels.” The angels watched over our Lord all through the days of His ministry. When He was born, they sang in great countless numbers a song of praise and glory [Luke 2:13-14]. It meant the deliverance of the fallen race and the restoration of this destroyed and wasted world. They sang in the coming of our Lord into the earth. They were present helping our Savior in His temptation [Matthew 4:11]. They followed Him through all of His ministry. They comforted Him in Gethsemane [Luke 22:43]. When He was raised from the dead, they were at the foot and at the head of the grave [John 20:12]. And when He ascended into glory, they announced to the waiting, gazing, heavenly looking-upward apostles that this same Jesus whom they are receiving into glory, that same Jesus, someday is coming again [Acts 1:10-11].
Now, as they watched our Lord and received Him into heaven, can you describe? No. Could you imagine? It’s beyond our imagination the scene in glory when their Prince, the Captain of the host of heaven, returns in triumph. What it must have been!
In Psalm 24 [Verses 7-10], we have a record of that scene in prophecy: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord mighty in battle, the Lord of hosts. He is the King of glory!”
In Colossians 2:15, those principalities and powers, unto Lucifer, unto Satan who warred against our Christ, Scripture says, “He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them.” And in our text, “He ascended up on high, leading captivity captive” [Ephesians 4:8].
To His chariot wheel is tied our conquered foe, Satan, Lucifer, the devil. He is now a toothless and stingless dragon. He is a defeated and crushed and conquered foe [Revelation 20:10]. And when our Lord entered heaven, He entered as the great Conqueror of him who had brought rebellion among the angels, had introduced sin into God’s holy creation, and had destroyed the universe and our world, finally had encompassed the death of our first parents and the human race.
When the Lord entered into heaven amidst the song and the praise and the exaltation of ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels [Revelation 5:11-12], oh, what a scene it must have been! This passage, “He ascended on high, leading captivity captive” [Ephesians 4:8] – those who had held Him captive, He now has in His possession as captives: Satan, in league with sin and death. “He became sin for us: that we might be the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And He entered into the grave that He might win there for us an eternal and everlasting victory [1 Corinthians 15:57].
And the bands of sin and the bonds of death did He break asunder, and He arose from the dead and entered into heaven, the great Lord Creator and victor and conqueror of the enemies we have known in our lives: sin, and death, and the grave, and all of the hurt and sorrow of the sowing of Satan [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. Can you imagine what a scene it must have been when the angels received back into glory their crowned Prince, the preexistent Christ, the Lord and Captain of their hosts and our own loving Savior? The ascension of Christ as the angels watched Him from heaven.
Third, the ascension of our Lord as the Old Testament saints waited in promise: in the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke, and if you’d like to turn to it, Luke chapter 9, verses -31, Luke chapter 9, verse  through verse 31. In the midst of the story of the transfiguration of our Lord, “the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became white and glistering.” The deity of our Lord, covered over by His flesh, is shining through. “And, behold, there talked with Him two men, Moses and Elijah: they appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem” [Luke 9:29-31]. Far more is in that text than you would discern by reading it in an English translation. Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, speaking to Christ of His – you have it translated “decease.” The Greek is exodos, and the same exact word in English is in Greek. They speak to Him of His exodus, translated here, “decease,” which He should – and you have it translated “accomplish,” plēroō, which means the fulfillment of prophecy; the exodus which He should bring to pass, to fulfillment, according to prophecy.
What does that mean? Moses represents those that died and are buried [Deuteronomy 34:5], Elijah represents those who are raptured [2 Kings 2:11], who are translated, who are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and both Moses and Elijah speak to our Lord about the exodus.
That’s what God calls the deliverance of His people out of the bondage of Egypt. It’s called in the Bible an exodus, and the second book in the Bible God calls “Exodus.” And they’re speaking to our Lord about the great exodus [Luke 9:30-31], the deliverance of the people from the bondage of death and corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, which He should plēroō, which He should bring to pass, accomplish, in fulfillment of all of the prophecies of the Old Testament, in Jerusalem.
In the Old Testament, when the Old Testament saints died, the Bible says they were gathered to their fathers. Abraham was gathered to his fathers. Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, always in the Old Testament they were gathered to their fathers, awaiting the redemption, the atoning death of our Savior.
And when Moses and Elijah speak to our Lord, they say, “Jesus, we are in heaven waiting the fulfillment of the promise. It is because of Your atoning death that we have hope of deliverance, the forgiveness of sins, and a home in glory.” And they encouraged our Lord. “Our eternal life and destiny are in Your hands. They depend upon You, this holy atoning purpose that You realized for us in Jerusalem on the cross.”
Can you therefore imagine the infinite ecstasy of the Old Testament saints with Moses and Elijah when our Lord, having died for their sins, and having delivered them from the judgment of death, and having made it possible for them to have entrance into heaven; can you conceive therefore, can you imagine therefore of the delight, and glory, and exaltation, and ecstasy in heaven when the Old Testament saints receive our Lord upon His ascension, conqueror over sin and death and the grave, victor, Deliverer? And the Old Testament saints rise to greet Him when He returns to glory.
There is Abel with his righteous offering [Genesis 4:4]. There is Noah with his sermon on repentance. There is Abraham with his heart in the Promised Land [Genesis 12:1-3]. There is David with his harp [1 Samuel 16:23]. There is Elijah with his fire [1 Kings 18:36-39]. There is Isaiah with his prophecies of comfort. There is Ezekiel with his four cherubim [Ezekiel 10:1-17]. There is Daniel with his lions eating straw like an ox [Daniel 6:21-22; Isaiah 11:7]. There is Zechariah with his quietness and his confidence. And there is Malachi bowing before the Sun of Righteousness who comes with healing in His wings [Malachi 4:2]. What a glorious day it must have been when the Old Testament saints arose to receive their great Deliverer and Savior, the Lord Jesus, the Christ.
Fourth: as the church, the redeemed blood-bought bride of Christ, as they received Him into glory, it is hard to express it when you read the first chapters of the Apocalypse, of the Revelation. The language groans under the heavy assignment of describing our Lord’s reception into glory when the redeemed, when the four cherubim, when the twenty-four elders, twelve of the Old Testament, twelve of the New Testament, the old patriarchs and the apostles, when they received their Lord and join in the song of Moses and the Lamb [Revelation 5:6-14, 15:2-4]. Oh, what a day it must have been! “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, unto Him be glory and honor forever and ever, Hallelujah, amen!” [Revelation 1:5-6]. What a day it must have been when Jesus returned to glory!
The apostle Paul wrote of the eternal exaltation of our Lord, “Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name”; above every archangel, above every angel, above all of God’s creation, exalted Him above all things, “That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:9-11].
Everything in heaven above is His. It belongs to Him. Everything around Him is His, the earth and all of its glory. It belongs to Him. Everything in His church, His redeemed family, all of us belong to Him. And in that nether world of the infernal, and the damned, and the demons, they also shall acknowledge Him. “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord, Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God our Father.” Oh, what a day it must have been when all of the saints of heaven, God’s redeemed church welcome their Savior and their Lord!
I read one time of a city in America in which was a large city municipal auditorium. And somebody had the unusual idea of asking the finest representatives of the living religions of the world, two of them each night, to present their faith. And it thrilled and delighted the interested people of the city, and they jammed that great auditorium in presence by the thousands.
One night a representative of the Shinto religion and the Hindu religion presented each his faith. Upon a night a representative of Islam, Mohammedanism, and Judaism, the faith of the Jew was presented. And the last night the two presented, one representing Buddha, Buddhism, and the other representing Christ, the Christian religion.
The representative, so I read, of the Buddhist faith was a brilliant and gifted man, and he swayed that vast audience with his words of oratory and peroration, speaking of Nirvana and all of the disciplines and the meditative life of Buddha. He was followed by the representative of the Christian faith, and somehow the man stumbled and stammered, and our Lord was presented poorly and weakly and ineffectively. And as the man spoke, stammeringly and weakly and ineffectively, suddenly, up there high in the topmost balcony, a man began to sing:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all;
And another man on this side took it up and others here,
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,
And crown Him Lord of all.
Then the whole throng of the thousands took it up,
Let every kindred, and every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe,
And crown Him Lord of all;
[“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” by Edward Perronet; Adapted by John Rippon]
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus is conqueror. He is God preexistent. He is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. He is God triumphant and conqueror over sin and the grave and death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. He is our Lord reigning at the right hand of the Majesty on high [Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3]. He is our great God and Savior [Titus 2:13] who shall appear some day, apart from sin [Hebrews 9:28]. And He is our manifest and eternal Lord [1 Timothy 6:15-16], the re-creator and restorer of this wasted world.
What a marvel that God hath given to us, made out of dust, the privilege of being a fellow heir with Him, a brother in the household of faith, a member of the family of God. Jesus is Lord. May we stand?
Our Lord, there are not words to say it, the marvelous wonder of Christ our Savior, His loving condescension, His suffering and death [Matthew 27:28-50], but oh, the glory of His resurrection [Luke 24:1-12], and His ascension into heaven [Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9], whom the heavens must receive until the time of the restitution of all things [Acts 3:20-21]. But in His grace, and in His power, and in His love for us, we all have opportunity, invitation to be fellow heirs in the kingdom of Christ. O God, that without the loss of one we all might be present in that day when He is crowned Lord of the universe and Lord of this world. May our children be saved. May these families and homes be saved. May we be saved, Lord. May I be saved. Write my name, dear God, in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that when the roll of God’s people is called in heaven, may my name be numbered among those who have loved the Lord and trusted Him.
And in this moment when our people stand before God in quietness and prayer and intercession, praying for you, a family, a couple, one somebody you: “Today, pastor, we have decided for God and here we stand.” In a moment when we sing this hymn of appeal, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I come, pastor. Here I am.” And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy saving name, amen. While we sing our song, come, and welcome. God bless you. Welcome, while we sing.