Jesus is ascended, He is ascended indeed. We proclaim the ascension of Christ when confessing the creed. But, why did Jesus ascend into heaven? What does Jesus’ ascension mean for us?
In His ascension, Jesus continues His work for us and among us. Jesus, having finished His redemptive work for us, ascended to the Father’s right hand to be our advocate (1 John 2:1–2). He is our great and ascended High Priest (Hebrews 8:1).
We read in Leviticus that the vocation of a priest was to serve as an advocate, an intercessor, between God and the people of Israel. However, this priesthood was incomplete (Hebrews 7:11). The priesthood of Aaron was tainted with sinners. The priest could only bring offerings and intercede for others after they themselves had been cleaned from their transgressions. Even the office of the High Priest was incomplete as he changed with each passing generation.
Albrecht Peters describes Jesus’ work for us in the ascension when he writes, “He has pressed on into the heavenly sanctuary, as the eternal high priest, bearing the sacrifice of His entire life that is all-sufficient.” The Levitical priesthood was inadequate to complete the work they were given. But, Jesus, our great High Priest, finishes the work. He intercedes for us not with the sacrifices of animals or grain but with Himself. He Himself is the peace offering, the sin offering, the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement . He finishes everything in the Law and the prophets with His finished work on the cross (Luke 24:25–27). Now, as our ascended High Priest, He is our defence, our absolution, and peace with our Heavenly Father.
In the Divine Service, Jesus continues to serve us through His priestly work on our behalf. John Kleinig, in his commentary on the book of Hebrews, speaks of Jesus’ being our liturgical minister. Kleinig writes, “As their liturgical minister, [Jesus] brings God’s sanctifying gifts to the people in the Divine Service, so that through him they can present their offerings as sacrifices to God.”
Jesus, our High Priest, washes us from the sin which has made us unclean through the waters of Holy Baptism. He forgives our sins and grants us peace with God through His holy meal in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus sanctifies us through the gifts in the Divine Service and gives us salvation by giving us Himself. As Jesus ascended into heaven He became our eternal advocate. Unlike the Levitical priests, He will never be replaced. He is our eternal High Priest.