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Thursday, May 01, 2008
N.T. Wright on The Ascension of our Lord

Today is the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ. You can read the account here. This is what is so marvelous about practicing Easter for 50 days. It provides a quite literal way to practice the Story. Jesus is raised from the dead. He teaches his disciples about the Kingdom for 40 days. He ascends into Heaven and 10 days later the Holy Spirit comes on the Day of Pentecost. How can we find ways to immerse our lives more deeply in these realities? And more to the point of today-- what are the implications of the Ascension of Jesus? I picked up a piece of a recent interview between Trevin Wax and N.T. Wright where Wright makes some helpful comments on the subject.

Trevin Wax: For all of the right focus on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, many evangelical Christians see the resurrection as some sort of ‘after-thought’ to what happened at Calvary. You have done much to correct this with works such as The Resurrection of the Son of God. But the ascension of Christ is perhaps even more neglected than his resurrection. The Western Church is preparing to celebrate the Ascension, an oft-neglected Christian holy day. Why is the Ascension so important and what would you recommend pastors do to increase the celebration of this monumental event?

N.T. Wright: If I could mention another new book, Acts for Everyone, which just came out, has (of course) material on the Ascension. When I was writing that book this time last year, I was very excited about the Ascension. I had done some things in connection with the Ascension for Surprised by Hope, but I hadn’t worked through it exegetically in the way I did with Acts for Everyone.

I think the problem that we have had comes from the wrong conception of heaven. Once you start to think of heaven, not as a place miles up in the sky, but as God’s dimension of reality which intersects with ours (but in a strange way that is to us unpredictable and uncontrollable), certainly then you realize that for Jesus to go into the heavenly dimension, is not for him to go up as a spaceman miles up into space somewhere, and not for him to be distant or absent now. It is for him to be present, but in the mode in which heaven is present to us. That is, it’s just through an invisible screen, but present and real.

The key thing to realize, as in the Old Testament, in Daniel, for example, is that heaven is the control room for what happens on earth. I think I do say this in Surprised by Hope actually. Heaven is basically where earth is run from. And it’s because we haven’t taken seriously the language of Matthew 28, where Jesus says, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth,” that we haven’t thought of it like that. We’ve thought of it like, He’s gone away, leaving us to run things. No. He is in heaven. He is in charge. He is the Lord. That’s true right now. Now, how his lordship works out is then through the work of the church. But he is the Lord and is present with and through his church, as we are doing what we are called to do.

To celebrate that at the Ascension is huge. It’s radical. It’s very, very important. I’m looking forward to Ascension Day. I love it. It’s a wonderful feast!

Trevin Wax: So, the Ascension is also pointing us to waiting for the day when the invisible screen is gone?

N.T. Wright: Of course. The Ascension properly allows us to understand the Second Coming. Again, it isn’t a matter of Jesus as a spaceman flying downwards. It’s the screen being removed and his reappearing. When I was working on the lectures that turned into Surprised by Hope, I realized that so many of the key passages speak of “his appearing,” not merely “his coming.” And “coming” is a good way to express the truth, because it appears he is now absent and so then if he appears to us, then it is as though he has come and has arrived. But the Second Coming is more like an unveiling or appearing.
I'd welcome some comments on why the Ascension matters from your perspective.

By the way, for a bit less intense and maybe more fun interview with N.T. Wright, check this one out.
posted by John David Walt | at 5/01/2008 07:45:00 AM



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