So what did Jesus do next? It is easy to see the Ascension as simply the end, or at best the start of a period of absence. His early ministry over, Jesus goes home again, like the end of a somewhat unpleasant holiday. What does the NT tell us he does next? Of course the angels present at the ascension tell the bewildered disciples to expect his return to earth, but little is said about what he is going to get up to in the meantime. Apart from the fact that he is in some way going ahead open the way and to prepare a place for believers, there is little attention paid in the NT to this next phase of Christ’s ministry, The book of Hebrews, of course, does give us more information, as Christ sits down, his work of salvation completed, and moves instead into the role of intercessor for the saints still living on earth.
So it is to the OT that we need to turn to see a different take on the ascension, that of the rule and kingship of the exalted Jesus. Obviously this is before the event, and the language, as here in Daniel, is that of apocalyptic, but it nevertheless sheds light onto the work of Christ as exalted king rather than suffering servant or risen Lord. In context the apocalyptic passage concerns the oppressive reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes which, coming hot on the heels of conquest of Israel by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Greece, threatened the Jews with the very real prospect of annihilation. During this crisis heaven is opened (‘apocalyptic’ refers to the drawing back of a concealing curtain) and we see the divine law court, where the judge is seated in his glorious robes and is about to pass the death sentence. In Christian interpretation of scripture this image, has been applied to Christ, the ‘Son of Man’, who takes his place alongside the Ancient of Days, a powerful symbol which has in recent years been taken up liturgically in the Anglican adoption of the Feast of Christ the King.
As I write the Conservative party, perhaps the most unpopular regime I can remember for a long time, has nevertheless been re-elected to power, with an increased majority, and with three key opposing party leaders falling on their swords in crushing defeat. Far be it from me to compare David Cameron with a cruel and persecuting Seleucid ruler, setting out to obliterate Christians from Britain (although some will regard his unmandated pushing through of the gay marriage law as equivalent to Antiochus’ driving of pigs into the Jerusalem Temple). In a time of a devastating earthquake in Nepal (I heard of a worship leader who rather unhelpfully chose the following Sunday to sing Mighty to Save, with its line ‘Saviour, he can move the mountains’), political upheaval and consistent persecution of Christians by ISIS and others, we might draw some perspective and comfort from this picture of the exalted Christ, reigning in glory, praying for the saints, and preparing to pass sentence on all that is evil. Perhaps v 11 is a key one: ‘I continued to watch’. So do we. For how long? As long as it takes.
Image: By Jim Linwood [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons