“FOR OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN” (PHILIPPIANS 3:20)
In the Ascension Jesus is lifted up, is raised higher and higher, until we can see that He is above all else! If there are earthly powers, if there are heavenly powers, if there are demonic powers, Jesus is “Lord of the cosmos” and all creation is subject to him (see CCC 668), for “to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13). Only Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). In the Ascension, then, we see in the clearest terms that Jesus is Lord, or rather the Lord-God.
Jesus’ Ascension establishes humanity’s true destiny in Heaven. I picture Jesus returning to the Father in Heaven, saying, “Father, Mission Accomplished,” and then saying, “Father, let us breathe forth our Holy Spirit upon the world through my risen and Glorified body.” It was good, then, for Jesus to ascend back to the Father so that the Holy Spirit could be given to us to guide us, likewise, to our heavenly home.“If I go [back to Heaven],” says Jesus, “I will send him [the Holy Spirit] to you” (John 16:7).
One lesson we clearly glean from our Lord’s Ascension is that the entire trajectory of Jesus’ earthly life was Heaven. He, Jesus, is the first born of many brethren (Romans 8:29). Therefore, the absolute true meaning of life is Heaven. Saint Paul says it beautifully: “Our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20). To truly understand the meaning of life we must get this principle straight. Take a look at your Passport: I hope it says “Citizen of Heaven.” Heaven is your true home. We are pilgrims here on planet earth.
Another lesson we glean initially from our Lord’s Resurrection, and ultimately from his Ascension, is the incredibly profound meaning of the the ultimate destiny of the human body. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read the following very significant words: “The Father’s power ‘raised up’ Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as ‘Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead’ ” (CCC 648, my emphasis). “Christ’s Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again….” (CCC 665). Consequently, any claim that Christianity devalues the body or human nature is misguided. Pope Benedict XVI, in a homily in 2005, stated: “Christ’s Ascension means … that He belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with Him flesh and blood in a transfigured form. The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God.” C.S. Lewis adds:
“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
Christ’s Ascension also signifies the beginning of the final hour of human history. By Christ’s Ascension into Heaven the final age – indeed the final “hour” – of the world has begun. The Catechism states: “Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at ‘the last hour’. ‘Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect’ ” (CCC 670). All Christians are living in “end times,” which means that we should be diligently preparing for the return of the Lord who is already present to us through the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, our Lord’s Ascension shows that He is the King and High Priest of all creation. There are powerful words in the Epistle to the Hebrews about Jesus’ ongoing priestly ministry in Heaven (words that should really give us great encouragement!). In the seventh chapter of Hebrews we read: “… because Jesus lives forever [in Heaven], he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:24-25; CCC 519). Is it not incredibly encouraging to know that Jesus is always living to make intercession for you! Does not that revelation of his incessant intercession for you fill your heart with confidence!
Moreover, the author of Hebrews identifies Jesus’ never-ending priesthood in Heaven as the true fulfillment of the Order of Melchizedek, the very first priesthood mentioned in the Old Testament (see Genesis 14). In fact, the Order of Melchizedek is mentioned multiple times in Hebrews! This is a very significant point for Catholics because the “thanksgiving offering” made by the priest Melchizedek in the Old Testament was that of bread and wine (Genesis 14:18), which constituted a “communion sacrifice” per Dr. Scott Hahn. Jesus is identified in Hebrews as “the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24). The true sacramental sign of this New Covenant is identified by Jesus as the Holy Eucharist (“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” – Luke 22:20). As such we are advised in Hebrews not to neglect ‘to meet together” for the New Testament liturgy (Hebrews 10:25), the Mass, of our High Priest, Jesus Christ (see CCC 692). Jesus ascended into Heaven is the true High Priest at every Mass.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Sources: Significantly, Luke 22:20 is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus uses the term, “New Covenant.” For the material in this note on Hebrews and the High Priesthood of Jesus, as it pertains to the Order of Melchizedek and the Eucharist, I am relying predominantly on Dr. Scott Hahn and The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. See also Dr. Hahn’s audio commentary on Hebrews. The quote from Pope Benedict XVI found at
Ascension Thursday and meeting Christ face-to-face …
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Interesting dense post and quotes… thank you!
Jesus mentions the new covenant only once in the gospels, and it is at the last supper, making the new covenant Eucharistic, centred upon the Eucharist.
What you say “All Christians are living in “end times,” is so true. In my understanding when we die we move from a temporal to a spiritual mode, into eternal life, and I take this to mean that we access the second coming immediately as it were, for in heaven there is no time. God does not have to “wait” for the end of the world, all is before him, past, present and future, and we will participate in that eternity (bar purgatory possibly) when we die.