He [Christ] ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
This is the fifth line of the Apostles’ Creed. This event, which happened 40 days after His resurrection, is celebrated by His Church on Ascension Sunday (this year Sunday the 8th of May). It is recorded among other places in Acts 1:1-9. Luke, the evangelist, wrote Acts as a history of Christ’s church in its infancy. In it, he shows how Christ, who is head of the church, led and still leads His church on earth, even after his ascension, as its prophet, priest and king.
It should be noted that the right hand of God, where Christ is seated according to Ephesians 1:20, is not a physical location in time and space. It is figurative language describing the glory Christ has now received. “For He sits in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephes. 1:21 (ESV). Many, reading that Christ sits at the right hand of God, imagine a throne room in heaven on the far side of the universe where God the Father is sitting with His Son on His right. But even though the Ascension as recorded was a literal act of Jesus, it was an act of symbolic significance. Christ was symbolically showing His disciples that He was now entering heaven, which is a spiritual realm without any physical location.
(To say that heaven is a spiritual realm without location does not mean that it is not real. It is a real place, but does not occupy time and space in the same way as earth does.) Jesus could have just vaporized and disappeared as He had done so many times before during these last 40 days, but He didn’t. He ascended into a cloud.
God is everywhere, as any first grade Sunday school student should be able to tell you. By extension, His right hand must also be everywhere, assuming He, who is Spirit, has a right hand. But the right hand is a figure of speech meaning the authority of a king or, in this case, of God. Those who are most trusted by a king sit at that king’s right hand in a throne room, and have the power to speak for the king in his absence.
At times they are able to do this without even consulting the king.
This is what it means for Jesus Christ to sit at His Father’s right hand, He now has His Father’s authority. It does not mean that He is locked up in a heavenly throne room. Rather, it means that He, like His Father, is everywhere, all knowing, all seeing, and all-powerful. He has reassumed the glory He had put aside in order to become man for us men and our salvation.
This then allows Him to be accessible to His Church. He can hear our prayers and comfort and guide His church in all places and at all times. He can be found in a very tangible way in His church, where His word is taught in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered according to His institution. We don’t have to travel to some distant land to consult Him. Rather, we can simply bow our heads and pray to Him wherever we are, knowing that He is there also. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20 (ESV)
That is Christ did not abandon His church in order to let it fend for itself by His ascension to the right hand of God. Rather, He ascended so that He could continue to provide for His church on earth, leading it as its prophet, priest and king. With this threefold office, the ascended Christ continues His earthly ministry through His Church, the body of Christ.
As prophet, Christ spoke the word of God to man on earth. He proclaimed God’s Law and God’s Gospel, condemning sin and forgiving the sinner. This He continues to do through the pastoral office, sending men to stand in His stead, and proclaim His word. “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Ephes. 4:11-12 (ESV).
Jesus also told the apostles:
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” Luke 10:16 (ESV) This apostolic office, which strictly speaking only meant those eyewitnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection who were sent by Christ, is now continued by the pastoral office.
As priest, Christ intercedes for His church before our Father in heaven. An Old Testament priest had two main duties. A priest in the Old Testament made sacrifices to God on behalf of the people, and prayed for them. Christ made only one sacrifice, His death on the cross. He needed to make only one because it was a perfect sacrifice made once and for all. “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27 (ESV). So Christ need now only pray for His church, as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane with His High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17. This prayer, you can be assured, he continues to pray on behalf of His church while in heaven. For, as Paul says in Romans, “[Christ] is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us,” (Romans 8:34 (ESV).
And as king, Christ still protects the Christian Church, His spiritual kingdom, through grace.
He also governs the whole world for the good of His church, not through grace, but by law through the legal authorities of men. “And he [the Father] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephes. 1:22 (ESV).
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Romans 13:1 (ESV).
This is the great comfort Jesus gave to His disciples and His church through His Ascension. He ascended in order that He might not leave, but stay, lead, guide and comfort His church in these last days.