Fourth in the Ascension Series
Did the Lord ascend to heaven the day of his Resurrection, or at any other time during the 40 days, or only on the fortieth day?
Some Bible expositors who say that Christ ascended on Resurrection Day, point to John 20:17 -
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
They discern that his ascension was imminent because Matthew describes a (very slightly) later meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene and other women where all of them held his feet and worshipped him (Mat 28:9 KJV; Luke 24:10 KJV) but he did not warn them not to cling or to touch him.
A commentary by John Walvoord points out: “It is more probable that Christ rebuked Mary when she touched or clung to Him (Gr. hapto) because this was improper for her to do.”
We recall that he also said to his disciples: I go to prepare a place for you, and this promise was made long before he actually went to heaven. (John 14:2) Likewise, I ascend unto my Father, a present-tense statement, did not mean his ascension was imminent but only that it was a certainty. (Walvoord)
Other ways or reasons to ascend?
We know that the Lord could materialize suddenly in his Resurrection body or appear in ‘other forms’ (Mark 16:12 KJV; Luke 24:30-31 KJV; John 20:26 KJV). Could he have materialized in heaven as he did on earth? If so, would that be an ascension?
No, the Father had a special time and place for his Son to ascend to join him. He performed this miraculous journey to confirm Scripture, and Christ arrived at his destination for this cause as well. (Acts 1:4 KJV; Eph 4:8-10 KJV; Ps 68:18 KJV)
Another reason given by some theologians for why the Lord needed to ascend on the day of his resurrection is gleaned from Hebrews 9 (Heb 9:6-20 KJV), the chapter that explains how Christ was a type of the high priest who entered into the Holy Place of the Temple on the Day of Atonement. (Heb 9:12 KJV)
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Such a viewpoint does not credit or proclaim the crucifixion of the Lord and his death as the once-for-all sacrifice that we embrace as our door to salvation but rather considers that great sacrifice as unfinished. Not until he presented his blood in heaven was it effective for us.
This is why Catholics and some Protestants consider the Lord’s Supper or ‘Eucharist’ as emblems of Christ’s very body and blood. The “first ascension” is a “perpetual offering” that is extended in the sacrament.
Yet, for those who believe the Good News, it is further stated in Hebrews 9—
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb 9:24-28 KJV)
We know that the Lord was a high priest like Melchizedek, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Heb 7:16 KJV)
The offering that Christ made of his blood was on the cross. “His sacrifice was finished and altogether ended when He was taken down from the cross and was buried. He did not continue sacrificing when He was in the grave. He did not offer Himself as a sacrifice when He rose again.” (Ref) He does not offer himself in sacrifice again and again. It is finished!
We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10 KJV)