For those of us who follow the Orthodox Christian calendar, tomorrow is the 40th day of Easter, which is also known as Ascension.  We celebrate this great feast in honor and remembrance of Jesus being taken into heaven on the 40th day after His resurrection from the dead. 

Unfortunately, many Christians overlook the significance of Ascension.  Even we Orthodox often do that, especially after we have been celebrating the greatest feast of all, Pascha/Easter, for 40 days.  Ascension is the time when all of the Easter decorations come down and is when the church begins to return to what we might call ‘normalcy’–i.e. the way it looks pretty much every other time during the year.  But the significance of the Ascension should not be overlooked.

The feast of the Ascension should make clear to us how Christ’s resurrection was fundamentally and functionally different than any other resurrection recorded in Scripture.  In the case of the others who were resurrected, they all eventually died again.  But the celebration of the Ascension shows that Jesus’ resurrection was unique.  It is different than all of the others.  What makes His unique?

Unlike any other accounts of someone being raised from the dead, only Jesus is said to have been taken into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God.  To be seated at the right hand of God indicates at least two things.  First, to be at the “right hand” of God indicates Jesus has been raised in power and glory, for the right hand is biblically the hand of blessing and power and glory.  Second, and closely related to the first point, to be “seated” indicates Jesus is enthroned as a judge.  Even in a modern American courtroom we can see how the judge is the one who is seated.  When the judge enters everyone stands until he is seated; and when the judgment is announced by the judge, the defendant rises while the judge remains seated to announce the judgment.  This focus of Jesus as the judge is confirmed by St Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17:31: “[God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”). 

This second aspect of the coming judgment is often minimized today by Christians and non-Christians alike.  We prefer to view Jesus as a very nice, forgiving, meek man.  And certainly Jesus was nice and forgiving and meek when He walked the earth preaching.  But His promise, and the Scriptural promise, is that He will return in the same way in which He was taken (i.e. in power and glory); and when He returns this second time it will be “to judge the living and the dead,” as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed.  I jokingly refer to this scenario in baseball terminology.  It will be like when the closer enters the game from the bullpen to his music.  Jesus’ song would be something like, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”

Without minimizing the severity of the judgment, I believe it is important to point out one thing.  The primary basis of the judgment, according to Jesus’ words, is not how ‘moral’ we are (which so often leads to self-righteousness, which Jesus strongly condemns).  It is not about how often we go to church or how many Bible verses we memorize.  When He returns, Jesus will check up to see if we have responded to His grace by acting graciously towards others.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus laid out His criteria for judging: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, housing strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

Seeing that Jesus said nothing about blogging, I better get busy doing some of these other things…

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